Art People: Alice Ivy-Pemberton | violinist

Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
It began, as these things often do, as more of an afterthought than a well-laid plan.

When Alice Ivy-Pemberton was 4, living in Leverett, a friend of her mother’s was looking for someone to take violin lessons with her son, and wondered if Alice might want to give it a try. So her mom signed her up.

Alice liked it well enough, she says, although it wasn’t a serious endeavor back then. “I played mostly bluegrass,” she said in an interview last week at her home. “It was very casual.”

The boy lost interest after a couple of weeks, but Alice kept going. Today, at 16, she’s a classical violinist who lives most of the year in New York City, studies with the likes of famed violinist Itzhak Perlman, and has played at Carnegie Hall.

Of course no one knew when Alice was 4 that she had found her life’s calling. Her “casual stage,” as she calls it, lasted until she was 9. By then, she and her family had moved to New York, where she found the perfect teacher, Nurit Pacht, a concert violinist with whom she still studies. That’s when everything began to change.

“This whole world opened up to me,” Alice said. “You can play something from 300 years ago, or 50 years ago. ... It was incredible how much there was to learn.”

But, rather than feeling intimated, Alice was fascinated and energized.

“The more I discovered in terms of repertoire, it gave me this incredible sense of purpose,” she said. “I hear these pieces and I love them so much — master works that make you feel so many things. And the fact that I might have the ability to actually take a violin and not butcher them is an amazing feeling.”

Within a year of meeting Pacht, Alice performed at Carnegie Hall as part of NPR’s “From the Top,” a show that features talented young classical musicians. How did she get there? Practice, practice, practice.

“I think that talent is a teeny, teeny part of things,” she said. “You just have to really work to be able to play the violin.”

With that in mind, Alice made the decision after her freshman year to be home-schooled — there just wasn’t enough time in the day for the routine of high school and the four hours of daily practice her teacher told her would be required to meet her musical and professional goals. Those include playing first violin in a top-notch, professional chamber music ensemble.

“Playing chamber music and being in a string quartet is the most wonderful thing,’ Alice said. “You come together with great musicians and you have the best time ever. The repertoire, the way the different instruments work together — it can blow anyone’s mind.”

Alice and her parents are spending the summer in Leverett, as they do every year, and while she’s here she will perform in a benefit concert in Amherst where she will play the Debussy and Franck violin sonatas and other pieces. Concerts like this one, she says, are a way for her to share the music she loves with the world.

“If I can really play it how I want to hear it, it makes me feel connected with a piece,” she said. “Then you just give yourself to the piece and to the audience.”

— Kathleen Mellen

Alice Ivy-Pemberton and pianist Estela Olevsky will perform “Masterpieces for Violin and Piano” June 21 at 4 p.m. in Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College. Suggested donation: $25. Proceeds benefit the St. Matthew’s School in Haiti and Mohawk Trail Concerts.