Simone Porter politely discourages people from calling her a prodigy, although it’s true that she just turned 16 and is slated to perform a solo violin recital at the University of Utah’s Libby Gardner Concert Hall.
“I don’t think it’s an applicable word,” said the Utah native who now lives in Los Angeles. “Gifted is more appropriate.”
Calling oneself “gifted” might seem conceited when it comes out of the mouths of others, but Porter means it in the way that she has been luckily gifted by her parents, friends and music teachers.
Whatever label you might use, the teenage musician will return to the state where she spent the first five years of her life with a loaned 1742 Camillus Camilli violin in tow to perform works by Arvo Part, Ernest Bloch and others.
Her parents were instructors at the University of Utah and not musically inclined, so they were surprised when Simone kept on insisting her parents play the record they had called “Puccini for Saturdays,” featuring the greatest hits from the Italian composer’s operas, such as “Tosca,” “Madama Butterfly” and “La Bohème.” “I began reciting lines with my sippy-cup,” Simone said.
When Simone was 3 ½ years old, she was brought to Salt Lake City violin teacher Amy Evans Herrich (whose own teacher, Deborah Moench, is recognized as a doyen of violin pedagogy in the city). Herrich, who now lives in Pasadena, Calif., was a believer in the Suzuki method, which emphasizes initially listening to music over reading scores. The idea, Herrich said, is that young children are able to learn their mother’s tongue simply by listening, and they can also learn to play instruments by listening first.
Simone’s development was remarkable. “She moved faster than any student I’ve ever had,” Herrich said. “She would come every week with new songs she had learned. I remember telling her mother that we need to slow down. I had never seen that. Simone’s mother would say, ‘I can’t help it. When she hears it, she plays it, and it becomes part of her.’ ”
Just two years after studying with Herrich, Simone auditioned for Margaret L. Pressley, the founder and director of the Seattle Conservatory of Music, and succeeded with flying colors. She and her parents moved to Seattle, with her parents securing teaching jobs with the University of Washington.
Simone made her professional solo debut at age 10 with the Seattle Symphony. At 12, she was admitted into the studio of Robert Lipsett, who holds the Jascha Heifetz Distinguished Violin Chair at The Colburn School in Los Angeles, where she currently studies n its Young Artists Academy program.
“Originally, violin started as a hobby,” Simone said. “It developed into a friendship, a relationship, and something I can’t live without.”
The orchestras she has appeared with include the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, the Northern Sinfonia and the Milton Keynes City Orchestra in the United Kingdom, and Washington state’s Olympia and Port Angeles symphonies. In May, Simone made her professional recital debut on the Miami International Piano Festival’s “Prodigies and Masters of Tomorrow” series.
Early next year, Simone will solo at the Aspen Music Festival, as well as debut with the American Youth Symphony at Los Angeles’s Royce Hall and with the Reno Philharmonic.
Simone is a senior at The Colburn School’s Academy and intends to continue her studies at the school’s Conservatory of Music after graduation.
Her upcoming Utah recital is dedicated to Mikhail Bugoslavsky, the late violist with the Utah Symphony who was a faculty member at the University of Utah for more than 20 years. He was a treasured mentor to her, Simone Porter said.
The dedication indicates that Simone’s thoughts often still remain in Utah, despite her new homebase in a dorm room in Los Angeles and a slate of national and international concert appearances. “In mid-November, I think of snow,” she said in a phone interview. “It was 92 degrees here last week.”
P When • Nov. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15; $10 seniors and U. faculty and staff; $5 students; at the box office, www.kingsburyhall.utah.edu, or call 801-581-7100.