Symphony violinist Grant Donnellan continues his mother's musical legacy

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 25, 2013 

Grant Donnellan

Ferndale native Grant Donnellan is currently concertmaster of Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and on the faculty of the Marrowstone Music Festival, under the auspices of the Seattle Youth Symphony. Marrowstone faculty and students present several public concerts through Aug. 4, 2013.

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Ferndale native Grant Donnellan, following in the musical footsteps of his mother, violinist Joanne Donnellan, picked up the violin at age 4 and hasn't put it down since.

Like his mom was, he is currently concertmaster of Whatcom Symphony Orchestra.

He's also on the faculty of the Marrowstone Music Festival, under the auspices of the Seattle Youth Symphony, which involves more than 200 musicians age 13 to 25 who come to Western Washington University (where Grant teaches) to study with faculty from around the world.

The faculty and students present several public concerts through Aug. 4. Details: marrowstone.syso.org.

Question: Grant, given that your mother was involved in classical music, were your violin lessons a chore or something you loved from the start?

Answer: I credit my parents for exposing me to high-quality music from an early age, and I credit my mother for having had the vision and perseverance to teach me the violin at age 4: I can only imagine what that must have been like for her!

It must have been a pretty good experience for me, however, because I never stopped enjoying playing the violin, even when it meant I had to practice instead of going outside (still a dilemma for me, at times, in adulthood).

While I grew up playing and listening, primarily to classical music, I now enjoy other genres as well, especially jazz. I was always an avid listener. I remember painting the house in the summer as a youth while listening to Brahms' violin concerto on the cassette player. I think my dad would have liked more painting and less listening, however.

Q: When did you decide to pursue music professionally?

A: I was very excited by my chamber music experiences in middle and high school and this is probably what pushed me in the direction of a career in music. Karen Iglitzin, former professor of violin at Western, was a huge influence and inspiration in this area, especially at summer chamber music camps.

I hope I can similarly inspire future generations of classical musicians in our community by providing quality educational experiences for them, here, in Bellingham.

Q: What's important to you about letting kids and teens know and love classical music?

A: In my work I have the good fortune of being able to share my love of classical music with a wide range of ages; with college students as a professor at Western, with secondary school students as conductor of the North Sound Youth Symphony and faculty at the Marrowstone Music Festival, with primary school students as "Beethoven" in the Beethoven in the Schools outreach program sponsored by the WSO and BFM (Bellingham Festival of Music), and with all ages as concertmaster of the WSO.

For me, the important thing is to encourage people to make a personal connection to this music, whether as a listener or as a performer and, hopefully, to model the same in my own performances.

I believe the timeless magic of this music is to be found in the versatility and depth with which it communicates - it reaches each person in a unique way - and seeing people become affected by it is deeply inspiring to me.

When, for example, I work with a second-grader in the Beethoven in the Schools program, or with a high school student at the Marrowstone Music Festival, and they become excited by the music in a way that is unique and uninhibited, I feel privileged to participate in that moment and privileged to share this art form that has brought so much meaning and beauty to my life.

The fact that we have these experiences for young people in our community is a real gift. To have the Marrowstone festival in Bellingham is a truly amazing opportunity for local students to participate in a national-level festival where some of the great artists of the present teach them to be the artists of tomorrow.

Q: What are your thoughts about the new conductor for WSO, Yaniv Attar?

A: Yaniv is a wonderful musician and an equally fine person who fits the orchestra and its trajectory beautifully. Our last music director, Roger Briggs, did a terrific job of raising the technical and artistic level of the WSO and bringing world-class soloists to inspire the players and community, alike.

As a result, Yaniv is inheriting a group that is primed and eager, and he has all of the qualities necessary to continue that journey with us and lead the orchestra to ever-higher levels of performance. I think we are lucky to have him in our community and the community is lucky to have an ensemble of this quality year-round. I anticipate a very bright future for the WSO.

Q: What is fun for you besides music?

A: I have two toddlers, Elliot and Ayla, who teach me about what it means to have fun on a daily basis and how to find it in every activity. As they grow older, I look forward to traveling with them and sharing in those experiences as my parents did for me in my youth.

In the meantime, I like to sneak out for some biking, swimming or kayaking during their naps!

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com. Follow Bellingham Entertainment on Facebook or @bhamentertainme on Twitter.

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