Tempe violinist’s Rise to concertmaster called inevitable by those who’ve watched his growth

Tempe-based violinist Julian Nguyen began learning the violin when he was preschool age and earned a master’s degree in music from Arizona State in 2019. — Photo courtesy of Laura Schairer

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It’s a big step for Tempe-based violinist Julian Nguyen in his new gig, concertmaster of MusicaNova Orchestra, the Valley ensemble dedicated to “new music, unjustly neglected pieces and fresh interpretations of the classics.”

“It’s one of those roles where you’re a leader, but also a colleague,” Nguyen said.

MV Moorhead
M.V. Moorhead

Nguyen’s tenure began this month, at the Musical Instrument Museum Theater, with “Baroque to the Future,” a program of Biber, Telemann and Rameau designed to show how cutting-edge baroque could be.

It’s the next big step in a career that seems, when you hear of Nguyen’s background, almost inevitable. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Texas, Nguyen came from musical parents. His father was a violinist who played professionally for a few years before settling into an IT career and his mom sang and played saxophone.

“So I was like, where’s mine?” Nguyen said.

He started learning the violin when he was very young.

“My mom tells the story that I begged for lessons, then when I finally had my first lesson and had to hold still, I screamed and cried and threw a tantrum,” he said. “My mom had to take the lesson so she could teach me at home.”

Eventually, the training must have become less irksome. Nguyen took to the instrument and went on to attend Rice University in Houston for undergrad studies in music. He then came to Tempe, where he received his master’s in music from Arizona State in 2019 with a specialization in violin performance.

Nguyen relishes the chance to perform before live audiences.

“I gave my last recital (at ASU) to an empty hall and the camera broadcasting it to Zoom,” he said, wistfully.

Tempe-based violinist Julian Nguyen is the new concertmaster of MusicaNova Orchestra, a Valley ensemble dedicated to “new music, unjustly neglected pieces and fresh interpretations of the classics.”

That performance at ASU’s Katzin Hall, and others by Nguyen, can be seen and heard on YouTube.

He joined MusicaNova in 2019. His promotion this year to concertmaster is not Nguyen’s in the position.

“In high school, I was concertmaster of my orchestra,” he said, “and also in my orchestra at ASU, in my graduate program.”

So, just what is a concertmaster?

“Concertmaster is the person who sits in the first chair of the first row of the violin section,” Nguyen said. “It’s my job to lead the violin section, and there are a lot of technical elements, micro-adjustments in performance, that I’m in charge of.”

Outside of performance, concertmaster also serves as the liaison between the conductor and fellow musicians.

To say that Nguyen is excited about his new role would be an understatement.

“I am so stoked. You have no idea how good it feels,” he said. “One of the reasons I’ve stuck with music so long is that I just love sharing beautiful art with people and seeing the effect it has on them.”

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