Academy Violinist Julian Rhee on Balancing It All

May 9, 2018


The 2018 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, 2018 Johansen International Competition first place winner, class president and Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra mentor—who travels weekly to the Chicago area to study at the Music Institute's Academy—talks about how he balances it all

Julian Rhee (age 17, from Brookfield, Wisconsin) is a scholarship Fellow at the Music Institute of Chicago’s Academy, a training center for gifted pre-college musicians, and studies violin with Almita Vamos. This week, he was named a 2018 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts (following in the footsteps of Academy alumnus Andrew Guo in 2017). He recently was the first prize winner in the violin division of the 2018 Johansen International Competition and, as a member of the Kairos Quartet, won first prize in the Strings Junior Division of the 2018 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition on May 5.  He is a finalist winner of the 2018 National YoungArts Foundation and was a featured performer on NPR’s From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley, where he collaborated with internationally renowned ensemble Time for Three at a concert in Jordan Hall, Boston. This past summer he returned from a 10-day tour to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay as a guest soloist and participated in the Bowdoin International Festival. In June, he will compete in the semifinals of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition. He will study at the New England Conservatory of Music beginning this fall.
Julian is one of several students who will have the privilege of working with acclaimed violinist, violist, conductor, and educator Pinchas Zukerman in a master class on May 21 (free and open to the public). Zukerman will be in Chicago to perform with the Zukerman Trio May 20 and receive the prestigious Dushkin Award at the Music Institute’s Anniversary Gala May 21.
The Music Institute posed a few questions to Julian about his musical life.

Julian (far R) with award-winning Academy chamber group the Kairos Quartet members (L–R) Lydia Rhea, Joshua Brown, and Thompson Wang.

When did you start playing the violin?
I started playing the violin around five years old after hearing my sister play in concert.
How did you first learn about the Academy? How long have you been a student there?
I first heard about it from my teacher, and soon after, my sister joined the Academy when I was about 10 years old. I would see her doing theory homework or rehearsing for her chamber group, and I knew that I wanted to join someday. I have been at the Academy for two years.
What have you found most valuable about your time at the Academy?
Working with such incredibly talented musicians has been an eye-opening experience for me. While the private instruction is incredible, meeting new friends and building lifelong relationships is invaluable. I have been inspired and motivated by my peers, and I am grateful for everything the Academy has provided me.
You have been extraordinarily successful in competitions. How do you prepare for the pressure and expectation of those events?
I found it helpful to see competitions as an opportunity to push myself and as a goal worth shooting for. It was less about winning a prize or acquiring fame and more about an experience that would better prepare me for the future. It didn't take away from the stress or rigor, but it did alleviate the pressure of satisfying an unhealthy expectation.


Julian (far L) in his first master class (2016) with Pinchas Zukerman at the Music Institute’s Nichols Concert Hall, joined by fellow Academy students Joshua Brown (second from L) and Tess Krope.

In a few weeks, you will again work with Pinchas Zukerman in a master class. What was it like working with him in the past? What are you most looking forward to about that experience?
Mr. Zukerman is an energetic and interactive teacher. At my previous master class with him, he brought life to music beyond what was on the page, and he inspired me to think in various experiences and contexts. I am really looking forward to exploring new ideas with Mr. Zukerman and also sharing in our passion for artistry.
What are your plans after graduating from high school?
The most difficult aspect of the college process has been choosing between an academic or music route, or even both. As someone who took both equally seriously, I am still figuring out what I would like to pursue. I am currently looking at opportunities with dual degree programs between university and conservatory. While I am not entirely sure what academic area I would explore, I know that music needs to be in my life.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not in school or practicing the violin?
I love hanging out with friends, whether it be going out for food or watching a movie. I also love playing basketball and am an avid sports fan: Packers, Bucks, Brewers. On weekends, I'll often be watching football with my dad.


Selected as North Shore Country Day School’s 2018 Susan Marshall Artist, Julian performed for nearly 500 students as an ambassador of the arts and visited with students in Lower, Middle, and Upper School music classes.


Julian shares his passion for music by serving in the local community as an assisting artist and mentor of the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra (WIO), which brings together musicians of all ages and skill levels in a challenging, non-competitive environment. In addition, he has spoken to and performed for high school students in Wisconsin and Illinois, most recently at West Bend High School and North Shore Country Day School as its Susan Marshall Artist. He has gained a strong foundation of support from his community, fostering his advocacy for cultural leadership and community engagement. Witnessing the impact of music on their lives reaffirmed his belief in the importance of music and the arts. In addition, Julian is a senior, Class President, and Valedictorian at Brookfield East High School. By debating ideas for fundraisers and annual dances with other class officers, Julian has built leadership skills and interpersonal relationships to help him reach his goals. So we asked him one more question:
How do you balance everything—school work, music studies, community service, and down time?
Building a schedule and creating a plan have been crucial in helping me manage my time. I usually prioritize my violin practice and then try to fit my homework and free time around that. Having to balance all these tasks is stressful, but it has made me so much more organized, focused, and ambitious. I always find that the reward makes the struggle entirely worth it, and reminding myself of this helps me to continue pushing through. However, the most important lesson I learned is to never be afraid to make mistakes; feeling overwhelmed or underwhelmed is natural, and adjusting and learning from these experiences are what’s really important.

Read more about Julian's accomplishments >>
More information about the Academy for gifted pre-college musicians >>