17-year-old virtuoso to play with the Richmond Symphony this weekend

Something virtually unheard of is about to happen this weekend: a high school student will play with the Richmond Symphony. Who is he and how did he earn the prestigious honor?

It’s one thing to say that you’ve played the violin for fourteen years, it’s quite another to say it as a seventeen-year-old. There’s probably only a handful of people in the entire world that can say both of those things. Brendon Elliott is one of them.

“I started playing at three,” said the polite and self-assured Brendon from his home in Newport News. The high school student was taught the violin by his mother, Dannielle, who learned the instrument herself at age eight and who currently is a Suzuki Violin instructor. “I was her test subject,” joked Brendon. He has proven to be a star pupil.

Brendon made his professional debut at age ten, performing with the Hampton University Orchestra. Not only has he played with several orchestras throughout the region, he performed the National Anthem at a Washington Nationals baseball game. In 2008, at the age of fourteen, he won the Richmond Symphony’s Concerto Competition. When he won it again the following year, organizers enacted a restriction that contestants could not win in consecutive years. So in 2011, he won the Concerto Competition again. His winning performance caught the eye (and ears) of Richmond Symphony conductor, Steven Smith, who offered the wunderkind a special opportunity.

Video of Brendon winning one of the Concerto Competitions

Brendon will be the featured artist this month for the Symphony’s “Masterworks” series that will perform Saint-Saens’ “Violin Concerto No. 3” this weekend. The tremendous, and very unusual, honor is not lost on Brendon, who sees the coming performance as a “big break.” “You can’t make mistakes.” It seems unlikely that he will, being how well-prepared he is.

Brendon typically practices four hours each day. “Most of the practice is on my own,” he said, although he’s recently traveled to Richmond, meeting with Symphony conductor Steven Smith to discuss components of the orchestral piece. “It takes a lot of discipline to practice every day,” said Brendon. His mother agrees.

“He has to sacrifice a lot of things,” said Dannielle. Whether it’s hanging out with friends or just having downtime to himself, Brendon’s life is—in certain ways—an atypical teenage life. “I am extremely proud of him,” said his mother. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.” While Brendon is very disciplined, he also has ample supplies of motivation in his own home.

He is one quarter of the Elliott Family String Quartet. Comprised of his mother, younger sister, younger brother, and himself, Brendon and his siblings often keep the same practice hours. “We mostly stay to ourselves,” he said, to maximize their individual concentration. The high school student said that “I’m definitely going into music” after he graduates. He has been accepted to The Curtis Institute of Music, Julliard Schoool of Music, and Manhattan School of Music, among others. While he will likely add to his already prolific education, performing is what matters most to Brendon.

“Having an audience” is what excites him, he said. “Having that intimate experience…I love the feedback of the audience.”

Bendon will perform with the Richmond Symphony on Saturday, April 14th and on Sunday, April 15th at the Carpenter Theatre.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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