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Meet Academy Alumna Lydia Umlauf

Lydia Umlauf, violin  |  Academy graduating class of 2010

Where are they now?  In celebration of the Academy's 10th year, MIC took time to catch up with alumni of the program.


Lydia Umlauf recently won a position in the second violin section of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. She is one of the orchestra’s youngest members. Previously, she was offered a position in the Louisville Symphony Orchestra as interim assistant concertmaster.

Lydia received an honorable mention in the Chinese Fine Arts Society Music Competition and won third place in the Sejong Music Competition, both in Chicago. She was a finalist in the Indianapolis Symphony Maurer Young Musician Competition and the Skokie Valley Young Artist Competition and was invited to give a recital performance in the Young Steinway Concert Series in Skokie. Lydia won solo performances with the Lafayette and Muncie Symphony orchestras. In May 2010 she won The Eleanor Pearce Sherwin Scholarship from the American Opera Society and gave a recital performance in October 2010. Lydia performed a solo recital on WFMT's Introductions radio program . In 2013, Lydia won the Jo Ellen and Steve Ham Merit Award and the JoAnn Athanas Memorial Award (first prize) from the National Society of Arts and Letters and the Ross and Andella Pyle Memorial String Award (first prize) from the 2013 IMMCC.

Lydia has played in master classes for performers and teachers such as Stephen Clapp, David and Linda Cerone, Ilya Kaler, Ida and Ani Kavafian, Vivian Hagner, David Kim, Midori Goto, Almita Vamos, and Joshua Bell.

She attended the 2012 and 2013 Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival orchestral academy where she took part in the 2012 Salzburg Music Festival and played under such renowned conductors as Christoph Eschenbach, Semyon Bychkov, and Manfred Honeck. Lydia also attended the 2012 New York String Orchestra Seminar conducted by Jaime Laredo where she played chamber music coached by Sylvia Rosenberg and performed orchestra concerts in Carnegie Hall.

An avid lover of new music, Lydia was a part of IU's prestigious New Music Ensemble, playing works by many of the finest living composers. In addition, she has performed and recorded many pieces by fellow composers and colleagues during her time at the Jacobs School. In 2014, Lydia became a member of KammerMahler, a dynamic chamber orchestra dedicated to playing large orchestral works paired with new music in a smaller setting. They have recorded a chamber orchestra arrangement of Mahler's 9th symphony, available on iTunes and Spotify. Lydia also frequently plays chamber music on the viola.

Lydia received a bachelor's degree in violin performance from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music on full scholarship where she studied with Alexander Kerr. She is an alumnus of the Music Institute of Chicago’s Academy program for gifted pre-college musicians where she studied with Desiree Ruhstrat. She also studied with Tamara Ringas in Chesterton, Indiana.

Lydia plays a 1916 Carl Becker violin on generous loan from the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation.

What was most beneficial about studying with Ms. Ruhstrat and your time at the Academy?

Studying at the Academy was amazing and inspirational in so many ways. But the best thing about spending two years there was the fact that it really woke me up in terms of how big and how talented the young classical music world is. Before I started traveling to Chicago from Northwest Indiana every weekend, I hadn’t been exposed to this intense kind of motivation and talent that everyone seemed to have at the Academy. I was a big fish in a small pond back in Indiana, so to say, and that changed completely (for the better) once I started studying with Desiree. Desiree was the best teacher I could have studied with at that time in high school; she really gave me an idea of what I needed to be and to accomplish to make any progress as a young violinist as well as being a phenomenal musician and pedagogue—and for that, I’m forever grateful.

What were some highlights during your time at the Academy?

I remember my actual audition for the Academy very specifically. I had already been studying with Desiree for a year and I was so nervous and anxious not to let her down. When I got into the audition (which was in the same room that Desiree’s studio played studio classes, no pressure) and started playing the Barber Concerto, I just remember thinking how thankful I was to be able to play music and to be there at that moment and that I belonged there. It was an amazing moment for me, as small as it was.

How do you think the Academy prepared you for conservatory training?

The Academy really set the bar high in terms of talent and hard work, so I think it almost over-prepared me, in a way. I received my bachelor’s degree from Indiana University studying with Alex Kerr. Desiree pushed me really hard and gave me a lot of rep to learn in my years of studying with her and that, more than anything else, helped me through the fast-paced and sometimes stressful music school life of juggling classes, orchestra, chamber groups, lessons, master classes, recitals, etc. The master classes at the Academy really woke up a love for music in me that inspired me more than anything else. I think my musical growth would be much more stunted without that hour every week on Saturday afternoon where we would listen to incredible musicians teach and talk about their craft.

Another great aspect of my time at the Academy was my quartet with fellow students Matt Lipman, Sonia Mantell, and Ryan Murphy. It was so beneficial to make music and rehearse with such talented and fun people. We all liked each other so much that they even went all the way to my house in Indiana for a rehearsal. :)

What is your current position?

I play second violin in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I won the job in summer of 2014, and I love it! It’s a fantastic orchestra in a new and vibrant city.

Do you have thoughts about where you see yourself in five years?

I’d love to see myself playing more chamber music and maybe organizing some sort of concert series in Dallas. One of my passions right now is getting the word out to other young people in my generation about classical music and getting them excited about it. I recently played a short concert with a few of my colleagues at the Dallas Symphony (who were also former studio-mates with me at IU) at a friend’s Christmas party. The performance was a huge hit, and so many people approached me afterwards and told me they had never heard anything like that before and how amazed they were at the beauty of the music especially in such an intimate setting. That’s the reason we all play music, to touch peoples' hearts and to tell them a story.


Read more Academy alumni profiles >>

Reverón Piano Trio

Friday, February 17 at 7:30 pm Venezuelan virtuosos return to Nichols Concert Hall to feature world and Chicago premiere performances not to be missed >>