Music

RISE

Meet Njioma Grevious, a young classical violinist who’s already played the White House

Njioma Grevious

Winnie Chan

Njioma Grevious

Age: 17

Hometown: Newton

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Think of: A young Hilary Hahn meets the Harlem Quartet’s Melissa White.

What caught our eye: The senior at Newton North High School performed at the White House State Dinner in August. She was the youngest of a quartet of Project STEP (String Training and Education Program) musicians who serenaded the Obamas and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. They also performed with the President’s Own Marine String Chamber Orchestra.

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The Boston-based Project STEP — launched by members and supporters of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1982 — bills itself as a rigorous, year-round classical string training program for minorities that aims to “identify talented, motivated young minority students and provide them with access to the best training available.”

Grevious is also a member of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; a violinist in a piano quintet that’s part of the New England Conservatory Preparatory School Chamber Music Program; and first violinist in the Whistler Quartet, a Winsor Music-mentored Chamber Ensemble.

Lightbulb moments: The first: “When I was 4 or 5, my family would watch ‘The Art of Violin,’ part of this DVD series, and I was just enthralled by Oistrakh, Heifetz, Menuhin. . . . Then hearing Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Ysaÿe — all this was a huge lightbulb: the way Bach is drastically different from Beethoven is drastically different from Shostakovich.”

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The second: “Both my siblings started performing before me, so I’d hear my sister practice for her Project STEP lessons. When I was 5, I asked my mom if I could audition.”

The third wasn’t so much a lightbulb moment, as a gradual realization that “whenever I pick up the violin, I’m happy; I’m joyful.”

Biggest thrill: Playing for the Obamas at the White House was the biggest thrill ever. I got an e-mail from Project STEP four days before the State Dinner, the subject was ‘White House.’ As soon as I opened it, I screamed. I was jumping up down in the kitchen.”

She also got to shake hands with President Obama and the first lady: “My heart was racing so, so fast, and I couldn’t stop smiling. . . . He said, ‘Hey, Njioma sounds like Obama!’ So I have a connection with the president.”

“Then I met Michelle Obama, who is such a role model to me. . . . Then I met the prime minister of Singapore and his wife. I had 30 seconds with each. It was an incredible, unforgettable 120 seconds.”

Biggest surprise: Music in general has surprised me by opening a lot of doors.. . . I’ve toured internationally with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra under Benjamin Zander — we’ve toured the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Spain; we played Carnegie Hall.”

She’s also attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute and the Vianden International Music Fest in Luxembourg, both with the support of Project STEP and Winsor Music.

Inspired by: Nina Simone, Chaka Khan, Hilary Hahn, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Shlomo Mintz, Melissa White, James Buswell.

Aspires to: Attend a leading conservatory and become a professional chamber and orchestral musician.

For good luck: I take a breath, and for a second, just be thankful.”

What people should know: I’m a passionate, emotional person. I add some of my personal flair, but I try my best to be respectful of what the composer wrote. I interpret music in my own way.”

Coming soon: With the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m., Symphony Hall. Details and tickets at www.bso.org.

As a featured performer in Winsor Music’s Young Artist Series, Dec. 3, 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brookline. Details and tickets at www.winsormusic.org.

Lauren Daley

Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.
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