Hsu adds to score of musical feats

Violinist Rachel Hsu will play at Carnegie Hall over winter break

Eleanor Kaplan

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The old joke goes like this: a man is walking around New York City. He asks a policeman how to get to Carnegie Hall. “Practice, practice, practice,” the policeman says.

That is exactly what junior Rachel Hsu has done.

Her recent success is due to her lifelong love of music. When she was three years old, she hoped to be like her older brothers, Sam and Jeremiah, who play violin and piano.

By first grade, she realized that her commitment to music was exceptional. “Even when I was in elementary school, I realized that I played way more than anyone else.”

Her passion continued until sixth grade, when Hsu experienced a plateau in her motivation. “I had an ‘I hate music’ phase,” said Hsu. Music had always restricted her social life and hindered her from trying other extracurriculars.

It was around this age that Hsu started playing with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO). The groups she was in, the Encore Chamber Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra, practiced from 2 to 8 PM on Sundays and throughout the week.

Hsu eventually quit piano. “I didn’t have competitions to aim for, so there were no end goals,” she explained. “Competitions, concerts, and auditions are what drive me.”

It wasn’t until the summer after freshman year that Hsu rediscovered her passion for music.

Her violin teacher invited her to perform with the Filarmónica Joven De Colombia, the national youth orchestra of Colombia. The orchestra consisted of serious musicians from 17 to 25 years old. Most were already in school for music or were playing professionally.

Hsu thrived in such an intense environment. “I had never been in an orchestra surrounded by people who want to do music for their lives,” she said. “They chose music.”

This orchestra also felt much less competitive feeling than the other ones Hsu had played for. “It was a huge community. Everyone was friends.”

Hsu was recently accepted into the New York String Orchestra Seminar. The group consists of musicians who are 16 to 23 years old. Most of them are pursuing degrees in music.

On Dec. 24 and 28, they will perform at Carnegie Hall.

Hsu has been concertmaster the past two years at the Illinois Musical Educational Conference.

She was second violin principal in the New Trier Symphony Orchestra freshman year, one of the concertmasters sophomore year, and is currently co-concertmaster.

“Her skill set is really fantastic in terms of her ability to play the instrument technically,” said Orchestra teacher Peter Rosheger.

Senior and co-concertmaster Ria Honda explained that they share many responsibilities. “She always gives me her honest opinion and helps me make important decisions. I think we make a great team,” said Honda.

Before big competitions or recordings, Hsu practices about two hours per day for at least a week.

When she is not in school, she is touring the world with various orchestras.

Last summer, Hsu toured Central Europe with CYSO. The group of about 100 did concerts in Belgrade, Budapest, and Prague.

Soon after, she attended a musical festival in Simorre, France started by her teacher Desiree Ruhstrat. Hsu performed in many different concerts as a soloist and in chamber groups.

Rosheger added that Hsu not only has an excellent skill set, but also uses her experience and mastery to “provide insight and confidence to the rest of the orchestra.”

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