It’s a banner spring for 18-year-old Seattle violinist Simone Porter: She has won a prestigious grant, has signed with a major talent agency and will perform with the Seattle Symphony in late May. She also garnered raves for her 2014 performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
Simone Porter couldn’t see the nearly 10,000 people seated in the Hollywood Bowl that night in September 2014. She could only feel their eyes on her, the fresh air blowing and the grandeur of one of the world’s most famous performance venues.
“That was so,” she said, searching for the right word, “exhilarating.”
For the rising-star violinist from Seattle, her debut at the bowl, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot, was a steppingstone on her path to stardom.
Seattle Symphony: Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5
With Mikhail Agrest, conductor, and Simone Porter, violin, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (May 28, 30-31), Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; tickets from $20 (206-415-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
In fact, it’s possible the 18-year-old is already there.
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In March, Porter was one of five musicians to receive a $25,000 Avery Fisher Career Grant. On the same day, she signed her first major management deal, with Opus 3 Artists. Next up, she’ll perform as soloist with the Seattle Symphony on May 28, 30 and 31 with guest conductor Mikhail Agrest.
“The violin and music are the loves of my life,” she said. “I have absolutely no doubt that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
She started playing violin at age 3. It has taken her across the globe, to New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, to Hong Kong and to crowded churches and castles in Italy.
At 12, Porter started commuting every week with her mom from Seattle to Los Angeles to study with Robert Lipsett at the Colburn School. She flew back and forth for three years before the school opened a pre-college academy. Porter was selected for the academy’s first class, so she packed up, left her public school and moved to L.A. at 16.
It was “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” said Porter, now a sophomore at Colburn’s Conservatory of Music.
She’s quick to give credit to her parents, teachers and mentors who supported her. When she studied under Seattle violin teacher Margaret Pressley, the Texas-based Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation — which supports violin training — provided scholarships for lessons, pianist fees and travel expenses. She was the only Starling student Pressley has had who wrote a thank-you letter to the foundation.
Porter is thankful for the support, but doesn’t feel pressured. This is something she chose, something she loves.
“I’m lucky,” she said.
More than lucky, Porter is talented. The Los Angeles Times wrote of her Hollywood Bowl performance, “Morlot had a future star to work with in violinist Simone Porter, the 17-year-old, Seattle-raised Colburn School student who was making her Bowl and Philharmonic debut Thursday night. Wait: Let’s strike the word ‘future.’ She sounds ready. Now.”
That performance also caught the attention of Simon Woods, the president and CEO of the Seattle Symphony. Morlot and Woods knew they wanted to book Porter for a homecoming.
“She’s the complete package,” Woods said.
Her teachers note her intense dedication to practice and performance preparation.
“It’s 90 percent hard work and 10 percent talent in the end,” said Pressley, who taught Porter for seven years. “If you have the kind of brilliance that Simone has, it never would have happened if she wasn’t really good at smart practice and wanting to keep her goals going.”
Lipsett notes Porter’s ability to thrive under pressure.
“One of her gifts is nerves of steel,” he said. “It’s not pressure the way most people would feel it. It’s food that nurtures her soul.” Lipsett also said that her performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto moved some in the audience to tears.
Pressley, who was in the audience that night, felt there was no better place in the world for her former pupil than on stage in Hollywood.
“It’s her path,” she said. “There’s a lot of Hollywood starlets that light up the sky and then they burn out very quickly. She’s not going to burn out.”
For Porter, the unforgettable moment came during the opening of the second movement. During the oboe solo, she looked up and saw the moon, a white sliver in the dark sky; it was shining as bright as the star on stage.