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“Lovely to the Ears”

A visit with Eva Szekely , Professor, School of Music

By Sean Powers
Published: - Topics: poetry violin Hungary Esterhàzy Quartet students
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Fifth-year senior Mitchell Drury stands upright with his violin resting on his shoulder. He zeroes in on a sheet of music and begins playing the notes, carefully gliding his bow across the violin’s strings. His teacher, MU violin and chamber music professor Eva Szekely, hums to her student’s rhythmic tranquility. “The note before is the one you want to emphasize. Sustain without rushing,” Szekely instructs her intrepid pupil. “That’s beautiful.”

Drury plays a work by renowned nineteenth-century violinist/composer Niccolò Paganini, one of Szekely’s favorite composers. Violinists during Paganini’s time were revered like today’s rock and movie stars, she says. The popularity of classical music has abated some since those times, but Paganini’s music remains eminently popular today. Szekely observes that people today often characterize classical music as being just for the elite and educated, but she explains that much of the music of the nineteenth century was intended for and highly appreciated by the masses. We have more choices of types of music today, and Szekely appreciates some of those types as well: “If I listen to musicians today playing works that are well constructed, interesting, and original, I’m going to like it no matter what type of music it is.”

As Szekely talks about her passion, she lovingly holds an old violin crafted in the Italian city of Cremona. Long before acquiring the violin—the only one of its kind in Missouri —her zeal for playing took shape as a child growing up in Romania. When she was six years old, her father, also a musician, gave young Eva her first violin. “The most important thing when you are six, seven, eight years old is to not be practicing in a room by yourself or else it can easily become a chore,” she observes.

Her practicing eventually paid off. After moving to New York City as a teen, Szekely was accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music where she studied with famed violin teacher Ivan Galamian. “You would not find many violinists in the world who have not at one point or another passed through his hands,” she says. “He focused on the unique way each individual student learned and applied his teaching accordingly.”

Now as a professor, Szekely incorporates her mentor’s teachings at MU. “Every person is different. All my students have special talents, but individually their talents are a unique mix of things,” she explains. “Some people do certain things easier than others; they are stronger in one area or another. That’s a given. The challenge is to find a way to develop and complete the necessary skill sets by the time they graduate.”

Since the violin’s repertoire is so broad as to be impossible to cover during four years of college, Szekely chooses major examples of each historical period in her syllabus: “Sometimes just suggesting a new way to think about a specific detail can suddenly change the sound, the way of expressing the musical ideas.” She explains that providing students with enough one-on-one attention helps them develop and grow as artists and individuals.

Beyond teaching prospective musicians, Szekely says her other love is the Esterhàzy Quartet, a forty-year institution at MU. The quartet gives her the chance to perform in concert regularly throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and South America.