Interview with Njioma Grevious

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Njioma Grevious, of Newton, Massachusetts, is a 17-year-old violinist who has been a scholarship recipient of Project STEP’s string training program since she was 5 years old. A student of James Buswell, Njioma recently performed as a guest artist at the White House in a Project STEP string quartet and with the President’s Own Marine Chamber Orchestra during a State Dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Obama. As a member since its inception of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra led by maestro Benjamin Zander, Njioma has performed in concert halls throughout Europe. Njioma is passionate about chamber music, currently performing in ensembles including Winsor Music’s mentored Whistler Quartet, a New England Conservatory Preparatory School piano quintet, and with her siblings in the Mahewa Trio. From a recent conversation with Winsor Music:

As a senior in high school, do you find it hard to balance academic subjects with the demands of practicing? Do you have a planned schedule to make sure everything gets done?

It is hard to find a consistent balance so I take a flexible approach to getting everything done (or at least trying to!). I am always ready to adjust to any day’s biggest demands by shifting my homework or practice or rehearsal schedule to accommodate so much to do. But my basic structure is getting a good night’s sleep, finishing up any homework before school, either beginning practicing right after school or later in the evening on school nights. Because I have a lot of rehearsals in addition to practice, each day depends on what makes the most sense in terms of being efficient and how I am feeling.

What’s it like studying with a great musician like James Buswell?

It is absolutely wonderful studying with Mr. Buswell. I feel tremendously fortunate and I really enjoy his inspirational and intellectually rewarding approach. I am thankful for the high expectations he has for me and I love reaching for them.

You’ve been a player in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra since its founding, and traveled with the BPYO to Europe. Can you tell us something about that experience?

My experience with Mr. Zander and BPYO has also been life-changing. I can’t imagine what these last four and a half years would have been like without the great opportunity and excitement of developing as an orchestral musician under Mr. Zander’s leadership, and performing with amazing musicians and traveling to so many countries to make music even before reaching college. BPYO is such a high-level orchestra, and when we play amazing repertoire including works by Mahler, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Gandolfi in some of the world’s greatest halls, it is pure joy.

Do you find that you preference for chamber music or orchestral? Does your approach to music differ between the chamber groups you play with?

I love them both because each is collaborative! My general approach is always the same: bringing my love for the music and music-making. But I do bring a different kind of discipline to practicing and expressing myself to meet the unique demands of large ensemble and small ensemble playing.

You recently performed for President and Mrs. Obama at the White House, which must have been very exciting. What was that like?

Performing at the White House and meeting President and Mrs. Obama is still something that I have to pinch myself about! It was more than exciting!! The Obamas are such wonderful and warm and incredible role models to me and so many people I know. And to be able to play in the White House with a Project STEP quartet and with members of the President’s Own Marine Orchestra—it was surreal.

Apart from the appearance with Winsor Music on December 3, what other performances do you have coming up? Do you have a past performance that was particularly memorable for you?

Coming right up, I will be performing with The Whistler Quartet, a Winsor-mentored quartet this weekend at an assisted living and nursing home facility. Outreach concerts are meaningful to me because they are a chance to hopefully add joy to at least one person’s day who doesn’t regularly get to hear live classical performances. Performing with Saul Bitran, our coach, Alma and Peter helps me develop and is so much fun because they are excellent musicians and friends. In addition to the Brahms we’ll be playing, I’ll also be performing a movement from a Bach sonata for solo violin. In addition to the White House performance, I remember another performance where I felt a particular kind of satisfaction. This was on tour with BPYO in Madrid as we successfully finished recording Beethoven’s Eroica. I also will always have sweet memories of the many times I have had the opportunity to play really beautiful music with Peggy at Winsor benefit concerts since I was about 7 years old.

What are your plans after high school? Is there a conservatory or college that you dream of attending?

Right now I am in the process of applying to colleges and conservatories and for scholarship opportunities to afford college. I want to continue my violin studies with the goal of a professional chamber and orchestral career. I am truly excited about my next four years of violin performance learning from great teachers and peers.

We’re looking forward to your performance on December 3rd of the Bach Concerto for Oboe and Violin. Is this a work that presents special challenges for you as a performer?

Playing Bach is always a challenge and is always an opportunity to learn something new and improve both technically and musically. With that said, rehearsing and playing this concerto with Peggy Pearson, one of the most amazing musicians I have ever heard, only adds to that challenge! And added to even that I will also be performing this moving piece as a Young Artist with six other amazing professional musicians who I admire. This is definitely a very special opportunity. Thank you Winsor Music!