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Friday, July 11, 2014

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London-based violinist comes home to perform

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Lyrit Milgram

Lyrit Milgram can’t remember the last time she performed at home in Toronto.

But on June 19, the 21-year-old violinist, who studies classical music at the Royal College of Music in London, England, will be home to perform at Temple Sinai Congregation, when she’ll also accept the Ben Steinberg Musical Legacy Award, an award that, now in its 30th year, was created to foster the careers of Jewish performers.

“I’m really excited to go back,” Milgram said, who added that she normally comes into town just to visit her family, so it’ll be nice to have the chance to perform for a hometown audience. The concert will feature her performing with her mother, Galia Shakèd, a pianist.

Although Milgram started with piano, learning from her mother, that didn’t work so well, she said, so she quickly switched to another instrument – violin.

“The sound… I always found it really impressive and beautiful,” she said. “It has the ability to sing and sound most like a human voice, more than a piano or any other harmony instrument.”

Back then, she had no idea she would turn that instrument into the focus of her career.

At 13 years old, while she was visiting family in Israel, she enrolled as a “listener” at the Keshet Eilon Music Center, at Kibbutz Eilon, meaning she was able to sit in on master classes that target “young violinists from Israel and throughout the world who are intent on attaining the highest musical level,” according to its website. She was too young to participate in the actual class, but the experience gave her the opportunity to learn about the program and have a few private lessons.

There, she met Itzhak Rashkovsky, a renowned Russian violinist who Milgram described as charismatic, with a very strict teaching style. She enjoyed his lessons so much that she decided she wanted to move to England, where he taught at the Royal College of Music.

A lot of non-musicians think it’s weird, she said, but “I think it’s very common for musicians to follow a mentor… wherever they go.”

She was just 16 when she made that move, and she called that the turning point for when she knew she was going to specialize in music.

That move took her, on her own, to the Purcell School, which is a boarding school located on the outskirts of London. The school is recognized for its excellence, and Prince Charles is one of its patrons, and he also happens to be a patron of the Royal College of Music.

“He gives a significant amount of money, and he visits once in a while,” she said.

Many of the students from the Purcell School eventually make their way to the Royal College of Music, she said, and both are highly prestigious schools. She described the college as having a “royal and regal” feel.

“You walk in and feel very inspired,” she said. “The opportunities are amazing… I’ve been given opportunities to perform in some of the best venues in the city.”

Some of those venues include the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Wigmore Hall and the Royal Festival Hall, all in London.

Although she was just 16 when she moved on her own to London, she said it hasn’t been terribly difficult to adapt to life on that side of the ocean. In some ways, other than the big move, she took a series of small steps toward independence.

“When I first moved, it was a boarding school. I was still living on my own… but we got fed, had classes, and people looking after us all the time,” she said.

Then, for her first year of university, she moved into residence, giving her the opportunity to cook for herself and do her own laundry but without having to pay bills, and she had a residence supervisor, so it took her just a bit closer to independence.

Finally, about two years ago, she moved into a flat on her own, giving her the chance to experience fully independent life.

Milgram said playing the violin has helped her connect to her Judaism while in London, since she sees it as a very Jewish instrument.

“It’s very much a part of our culture,” she said, adding that she wishes she could connect to the community even more, but she has found it somewhat difficult. “It’s so big – there are so many people here, so many different communities… I’ve found it hard to be more included.”

But having Jewish cousins in the city has allowed her to maintain some connection to the religion and to the London Jewish community.

And getting back to Toronto, performing at the synagogue, will rekindle her connection to the Toronto Jewish community.

The performance takes place at Temple Sinai Congregation on June 19 at 8 p.m. The show is free and open to the public.

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