fb-pixel Skip to main content

Violinist Keila Wakao, 15, inspires as guest soloist with Newton’s New Philharmonia Orchestra

Violinist Keila Wakao soloed with the New Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of conductor Jorge Soto.Molly Farrar

Keila Wakao, a 15-year-old award-winning violinist and Newton native who attends the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, soloed with Newton’s New Philharmonia Orchestra on Halloween weekend.

Wakao, who performed with the ensemble for the first time in 2019, performed John Williams’s “Theme from Schindler’s List,” as well as his arrangement of Carlos Gardel’s “Tango, Por una cabeza,” and the concert ended with Pablo de Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25.” The orchestra played two concerts — an evening show on Saturday and matinee on Sunday at Newton North High School.

Wakao’s solos were short show pieces, less than 15 minutes each. She said in an interview she had “always wanted to be the one standing there.”


“It’s an unforgettable feeling,” Wakao said. “Whenever I play with orchestra, I feel really powerful, even though I’m the only one standing — and this big group of people behind me usually are older than me — I feel really proud.”

Principal Conductor Jorge Soto, originally from Venezuela and a violinist himself, said when working with Wakao both during performances and rehearsals, she had a “special energy.”

“Whatever she did was very, very organic,” Soto said after the performances. “To hear her at such a young age, to hear her playing this range of emotions in these pieces from “Schindler’s List” to “Carmen” in such a master way, this is inspiring. I haven’t practiced much in a long time, but I feel like practicing now.”

Wakao also takes lessons at New England Conservatory with Donald Weilerstein and Soovin Kim. She said since she chose the violin at age 3, her father, Keisuke Wakao, assistant principal oboist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has been “dedicated to finding the best musical education possible.”

“Just being around many kind and warm and supportive people helped me become the person and musician I am today,” she said.


Adrienne Hartzell Knudsen, the executive director of the New Philharmonia Orchestra and a cellist in the orchestra, said while finding venues to perform and managing COVID-19 restrictions has been challenging, the concerts were a “banner moment” for the orchestra.

The New Philharmonia performed outside in the Newton Centre Bowl in July, but these concerts were the ensemble’s first indoor performance in almost two years. With just one rehearsal at the high school before the concert, the orchestra had to adapt to the acoustically different space, she said.

“It’s all a challenge, and I think everybody is up to it,” Hartzell Knudsen said in an interview before the show. “They’re excited to be able to do this and to be in a real auditorium because there aren’t a lot of those around town.”

Soto said the orchestra is an amateur group, but they can tackle demanding repertoire.

“I don’t think they have any limitations,” Soto said in an interview after the concert. “It’s really a community orchestra, and I’m very excited.”

Hartzell Knudsen said the orchestra represents a “real cross-section of society.”

“Some of them actually trained professionally in music at undergrad, and then decided to go into other careers. Others are just lovers of classical music and love to play their instrument, whatever it might be,” she said. “The common thread is passion for wonderful music and wanting to share it with the community.”

Wakao said it’s “always an honor to perform” with the orchestra and Soto. She performed with the Chattanooga Symphony last month and plans to solo with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in January.


“Once I step on stage, I literally forget all of my worries and just keep going,” Wakao said. “It’s like I’m not even in reality sometimes. I’m so excited and so into the music. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Molly Farrar can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.