Steamboat Springs Ten-year-old Jacob VanDerWerf doesn’t get nervous when he plays his violin.
And playing on the stage of Merkin Concert Hall in New York City for hundreds of people was no different.
“I just think about the music I’m playing,” said Jacob, smiling easily through his blue braces and fidgeting on his leather couch in his home Wednesday afternoon.
On Friday, the Lowell Whiteman Primary School student played a Vivaldi piece at the concert hall after winning an award in the American Protégé music competition. Jacob received honorable mention in the international piano and strings competition, which boasted entrants from more than 25 countries.
It was the first competition he had been entered in, sending in an audition tape on a whim the day before the deadline in January.
In the 6- to 10-year-old age group, there were eight winners, 10 second-place finishers and 20 honorable mentions.
“He’s just really laid back about it,” his mother, Susan VanDerWerf, said about her son. “He seemed to be one of the few kids up there who really seemed to be enjoying himself.”
Jacob’s affinity for the string instrument is no anomaly: He attended his first symphony orchestra concert when he was still in the womb. His father, Peter VanDerWerf, is an avid guitar player, with at least 10 instruments — guitars, basses, mandolins and drums — stashed in corners of their Steamboat Springs living room.
“I like classical music a lot,” Jacob said. “But I like rock too, like Rush and the Scorpions.”
“We call it the dark side,” joked Peter VanDerWerf.
Peter already has taken his son to four Rush concerts.
But Jacob’s dreams remain in the classical realm: he wants to be a professional performer after attending the Juilliard School, which he got the chance to visit on his New York City trip last week.
He started playing violin at age 5 and had his first solo performance at age 6. Under the tutelage of local string musician Mary Anne Fairlie, Jacob has participated in the Steamboat Springs Youth Orchestra and the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory, and he’ll audition for the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra Honors Recital in May.
It was Peter and Susan VanDerWerf who had him start playing the violin at a young age, but now that Jacob is getting older, his parents say it’s up to him to decide whether he wants to continue to pursue the instrument and way of life.
“You have to enjoy it,” Susan VanDerWerf said about her son’s passion. “It can’t be forced all the time.”
And if fun comes first for the VanDerWerfs, the American Protégé concert fit the bill.
“I was pretty excited,” Jacob said. “It was really fun.”
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email firstname.lastname@example.org