Steamboat Springs Nurit Bar-Josef's face glowed while searching her memories to recall the first violin she saw.
She said it was in a Boston public school in the early '80s, and she was 5 years old. There was a demonstration of different instruments, and the violin was one of them. In retrospect, Bar-Josef concluded she was drawn to the instrument because of its nature.
"It's touching your body," she said, miming the act of playing the violin and showing how the instrument itself is an extension of the body.
It didn't take long for her to pick it up. In fact, she immediately played it nonstop. By the time she was 8 or 9, the young musician already had made the decision this is what she wanted to do with her life.
Less than 20 years later, in May 2001, Bar-Josef was appointed concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. At 27 years old, she is considered the youngest concertmaster ever to be appointed in one of the nation's top orchestras. It also makes her one of only four women to take an instrumental leadership role in the nation's 26 largest orchestras.
She made her debut as concertmaster in September and just recently finished her first season, which concluded with a European tour of 15 cities in 19 days.
On Tuesday, Bar-Josef was sipping iced coffee at Starbucks in Steamboat Springs, taking a break from a rigorous rehearsal schedule for four chamber performances she will play in for Strings in the Mountains between July 13 and 17.
"I don't feel it," Bar-Josef said plainly about the uniqueness of her new position. "I certainly never heard anything negative about it."
In fact, the issue rarely came up, except in a Washington Post article a while back. With her first season as concertmaster under her belt, Bar-Josef has reached a high goal in her career; it's hard for her to imagine how much further she could go.
However, the opportunity to escape an orchestra for a while to play chamber music through the summer is a well-appreciated addendum to her career.
"Chamber music has always been my love," she said. "This is a little bit more my style in the summer and getting away."
She is getting away from the humid summer of Washington, insisting on sitting outside in the dry Colorado air. She also is getting away from the large orchestra setting with her performances in Steamboat Springs.
It's the intimate setting of chamber music that lures orchestra musicians, such as Bar-Josef, to pursue the art in the offseason. Another reason is the people they get to work with.
"A lot of what brought me out here are the other musicians," she said.
About 20 of the world's top, or up-and-coming, classically trained musicians are in Steamboat for the first few weeks of the six-week Chamber Music Series, which kicked off with the Gala Chamber Concert last weekend. In all, the series features 16 concerts with 60 musicians coming to town to perform.
"In a situation like this, it has to be a little bit more laid back mainly because we don't have a lot of time," Bar-Josef said.
The musicians have only a week or so to rehearse, and many, like Bar-Josef, may have never played the pieces they will perform. There's no conductor, so the musicians in the small chamber ensembles, from two to eight people, explore the pieces together. It is a challenging and exciting opportunity, but how smooth it goes is dependent on the people involved.
"It's only been the second day, but so far, everyone they have brought out here is so cool," Bar-Josef said. "You couldn't ask for better people to work with."
For Bar-Josef, it's an added pleasure because she is playing with longtime friend Kirsten Johnson, whom she hasn't played with since college.
Bar-Josef performs in a sextet on Saturday, in a duet on Monday, in a quintet on Wednesday and in a trio on July 20.
All the shows are at 7 p.m. in the Strings Music Tent.