[News-Press] Local violinist’s new world triumph
By Brett Lee Dicks, News-Press Correspondent
When it comes to an inaugural performance with a symphony orchestra, seldom has a debut been as serendipitous as Montecito-raised Calyssa Davidson's first appearance with the Santa Barbara Symphony this weekend.
Currently on a fleeting visit to Santa Barbara from London, where the violinist is studying for a double master's degree at the Royal College of Music, Ms. Davidson has been invited to perform with the Santa Barbara Symphony as part of this weekend's "New World" program at the Granada Theatre.
The symphony's performances today and Sunday feature a program incorporating the work of three composers, Karen Tanaka, Erich Korngold and Antonin Dvor·k, and will be dedicated to the late philanthropist, Leni Fé Bland. Ms. Davidson's participation is particularly fitting given her connection with the local arts patron.
While growing up in Santa Barbara, Ms. Davidson often performed violin at symphony cocktail parties and events. In 2009 the burgeoning violinist won the Leni Fé Bland Foundation's highest honor for emerging musicians: the Leni Fé Bland Award. The prize came with a scholarship that helped Ms. Davidson to travel to London in 2010 to attend the Royal College of Music.
"I still have a copy of the program from the award event tucked into the inside of my violin case," Ms. Davidson, 25, told the News-Press as she prepared for this weekend's symphony performance. "Leni Fé Bland heard me play at one of those symphony events and encouraged me to apply for her scholarships.
"I called her office and there was an audition waiting for me and I ended up getting the top award, which came with a hefty scholarship that helped me go to London and study. So to come back this year and have this opportunity to perform with the Santa Barbara Symphony in a program that's being dedicated to Leni Fé Bland is something that means so much to me. It's really an incredible honor."
Having graduated with a bachelor's of music majoring in violin performance from the Royal College of Music in 2014, Ms. Davidson now is focusing on a double master's degree in violin performance and composition for screen. The groundwork for her seat with the Santa Barbara Symphony was laid while attending a performance by the orchestra during a break in studies last year.
After the concert, Ms. Davidson was invited backstage to meet with the Santa Barbara Symphony's music and artistic director, Nir Kabaretti, who extended an offer to perform with the ensemble. Over the ensuing year, Ms. Davidson matched her own schedule and that of the symphony, and when it became apparent they would overlap this month, she reached out to Mr. Kabaretti, who honored the invitation.
"Calyssa is a fantastic young musician who has been on our radar," Mr. Kabaretti said. "She is a product of our education system, so we couldn't be more proud to see that she is now based in London and going to one of the most prestigious schools in Europe. It is really wonderful that a kid who grew up here with us can now join us on a professional level."
Born in Beverly Hills, Ms. Davidson moved to Montecito with her family in 1992 at the age of 4. Her introduction to the violin came around the same time, while visiting her grandmother in Los Angeles. A violin soloist was playing on the radio and the performance instantly caught the youngster's ear.
"I told my grandmother that's what I wanted to play," Ms. Davidson recalled. "My grandmother said, 'You want to play music? OK, we'll get you a recorder.' I said, 'No, I want to play that instrument.' I was too young to remember very much, but I was apparently very adamant about it."
Her parents, Doug and Cindy Davidson, got her a violin and she started taking lessons, something she continued through her schooling at Laguna Blanca School and Dos Pueblos High School.
In 2006, Ms. Davidson attended the six-week Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan where her love of performing the violin was transformed into a passion. She returned to the camp the following year, after which she left high school to study violin at the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles while finishing her high school diploma at Santa Barbara City College.
"I still can't believe my parents supported me in doing that," Ms. Davidson said with a laugh. "On Monday and Wednesday I went to City College for classes and on Tuesday and Thursday drove down to Colburn for what my teacher called 'boot camp.' I had a lesson in the morning, practiced all day long and then had another lesson in the evening."
All of which has helped Ms. Davidson craft an impressive resume.
Between 2001 and 2008 she was a member of the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony Orchestra, serving as concertmaster during the last three years. Beginning in 2002 she spent three successive summers as a participant in the Music Academy of the West's MERIT Program, returning to the Academy in 2010 and 2011 as a fellow on a full scholarship to study with Zvi Zeitlin.
In addition to her studies at the Royal College of Music, Ms. Davidson is the lead violin teacher for Tri-borough Music Hub and runs the string ensemble at Latymer Upper School as well as teaching violin and viola at several after-school music centers around London.
Despite her numerous achievements, Ms. Davidson said that to now find herself back in Santa Barbara and performing with an orchestra she grew up listening to will be one of her most treasured triumphs for years to come.
"It's amazing to be a part of something that's been a part of my life since I was a little kid," she said. "I've been playing in orchestras for ages, but to now get to play in this orchestra is quite unbelievable. It's something I won't forget."