Young artist finds herself in major league

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— Imagine being called up from a minor-league team to pinch-hit in the World Series. Shift the analogy to the classical music world and it's akin to what happened to 25-year-old violinist Cristina Lixandru last week in the Strings tent.

"It was like the stars were aligned, and then one of them was missing, and I got to be that star," said Lixandru, after what she called the artistic experience of a lifetime.

When concert violinist Jennifer Frautschi's plane arrived too late for her to play at the noon Tent Talk on Wednesday, Strings' Music Director Yizhak Schotten had to do some quick thinking to come up with a musician talented enough to play second violin in Romanian composer George Enesco's difficult String Octet. Fortunately, his answer was right here in Strings' Young Artist Quartet in residence. Lixandru had been playing first violin in The Cervantes String Quartet every Thursday in the lunchtime Music on the Green series at the Yampa River Botanic Park and with the quartet in other outreach programs in the area.

"I happened to mention in conversation to Yizhak a few weeks back that I had played the first violin part back in high school 10 years ago," Lixandru said. "But the first violin part is a much different part than the second violin."

"I knew Cristina was talented and could handle it well or else I wouldn't have asked her," Schotten said. He said Lixandru sounded shell-shocked when he phoned her to ask her to sight-read just the sections of the piece that would be played for the Tent Talk.

Lixandru remembers thinking, "What? You want me to play with those people? You must be out of your mind" -- but she quickly decided to seize the opportunity.

"So many people would kill for the chance to play for these people ... it was just beyond my wildest imagination," she said.

With an hour to rehearse Tuesday, and hours spent practicing her part that night, Cristina found herself, a graduate student from the University of Illinois, sitting there at the rehearsal before the Tent Talks on Wednesday, playing with Andres Cardenes, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony; Michelle Kim, assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Cynthia Phelps, principal violist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Anne Williams, principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony; and three other renowned musicians.

And, as it turned out, Schotten asked the octet to play the entire piece in rehearsal.

So, how did the veteran players respond to the newcomer?

"It was great-she did a wonderful job," Kim said.

Frautschi did arrive in Steamboat late Wednesday afternoon and will play the Enesco piece at Saturday night's Strings concert. Meanwhile, Lixandru can put a very memorable performance on her resume.

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