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Erin Schreiber fills her life with music

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 23, 2012 - It’s not easy catching up with violinist Erin Schreiber, the 24-year-old assistant concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony. In addition to her demanding duties wrapping up the SLSO concert season, Schreiber recently performed Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” and several other works with the Archdiocesan Orchestra and choir at the St. Louis Cathedral.

As all that was going on, she was practicing with the orchestra that will play at Opera Theatre – as well as appearances at a number of summer music festivals and events throughout the country.

“It’s definitely going to be a busy summer,” Schreiber says in a recent phone conversation from her home in the Central West End after a day of rehearsals. “In addition to Opera Theatre, I’m preparing to play at the Sun Valley Summer Symphony series in Idaho, which I’ve done the past two years, and I’m also going to play at a new chamber music festival in California. And I know I’ll also be out at the Innsbruck Festival this summer, which David Halen is involved in.”

Schreiber, who was born and raised in nearby Elsah, got an early start on the violin. Her parents enrolled her in Suzuki method violin classes at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville when she was 4, and she loved playing the instrument.

“Playing violin was just so much fun to me,” recalls Schreiber. “In fact, I remember when I was 7, someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. The first thing I thought of was playing the violin and being a musician. I’m not sure if they really believed me, but that’s truly what I wanted to be.”

Schreiber continued her focus on playing violin throughout her youth, and eventually began playing with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. But classical music wasn’t the only style she played growing up. She and her brother played folk music for dances as well.

“My brother also took Suzuki violin lessons when he was growing up, but he really became interested in folk music and bluegrass,” Schreiber says. “And I liked playing folk music, too. I can remember the two of us playing music for contra dances.”

16 at the Curtis

Classical music remained Schreiber’s first love with violin, and by the time she was 16, she was accepted at the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. She started her studies there in 2005 with teachers such as Jaime Laredo, Pamela Frank and Joseph Silverstein.

It was at Curtis that Schreiber met violinist Celeste Golden Boyer (the subject of a previous St. Louis Beacon profile), whom she would later play with in the SLSO).

“Celeste’s time at Curtis overlapped with mine by one year,” says Schreiber. “But at the time, we certainly didn’t think we’d both end up as assistant concertmasters in St. Louis!” (Boyer is the second associate concertmaster with the SLSO.)

That SLSO connection began to happen sooner than Schreiber expected. She auditioned for the open position of assistance concertmaster at the Symphony when the job became open in 2008, not really thinking she had a chance to win the job. In fact, she thought participating in the audition would be a good way to gain experience and better prepare for future auditions after her scheduled graduation from Curtis in 2009.

“I was still a year away from graduation at Curtis,” recalls Schreiber, so I wasn’t really thinking about auditioning for positions. But when I found out about the audition for the assistant concertmaster position with St. Louis, I just decided to try out on a whim. But everything went really well, and when I won, I was totally shocked! I hadn’t thought about the consequences of winning at all.”

Schreiber decided that the SLSO assistant concertmaster position was an opportunity she just could not pass up.

“I have to admit that it was a little daunting at first,” says Schreiber. “I was only 20 and it was a little tricky to move so quickly from being a student to being a working professional musician in a top notch symphony. All of the other musicians were just so supportive and helped me out so much when I was starting out. There were plenty of helpful comments from them and, of course, David Halen really helped me to work into my assistant concertmaster role. I also think I put a lot of pressure on myself because I was so young and felt I had so much to prove. But thanks to everyone’s assistance, I was able to get the hang of things more quickly and easily.”

As Schreiber became more comfortable in her assistant concertmaster role, she gradually began to be featured as a soloist on SLSO programs.

“Two seasons ago, I played the Bach Double Concerto (“Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and continuo in D Minor”) with David Halen,” explains Schreiber. “Then last season I did a showpiece in a pops performance. And this past season, I played Luciano Berio’s “Corale on Sequenza VIII,” which I had played as a solo piece the year before at a Pulitzer Foundation concert.”

Veteran at 24

Schreiber, now a four-season veteran of the SLSO, is only 24 years -old. She’s still single and shares her CWE home with “… an adorable cat named Tinkerbell,” and is in a relationship with “a wonderful man – and fellow violinist.”

She has also clearly settled into her role as assistant concertmaster, and is expanding her artistic horizons with a growing resume of soloist appearances. Schreiber has also expanded her playing beyond classical performances, touring and playing concerts with famed jazz trumpeter, Chris Botti.

“I first met Chris when he came to Powell Hall for a performance early in 2011,” says Schreiber. “I was the concertmaster that night, so I had the chance to talk to him. He mentioned that the regular violinist they used was unavailable for some upcoming concerts and asked me to get me information to his manager. I ended up playing with him and his band in Oregon and California, as well as Mexico City, Shanghai and a tour of five countries in Eastern Europe. I really loved playing in a style that was totally different from a classical concert. It was an amazing experience!”

Despite her impressive credentials, Schreiber still approaches all her musical endeavors as learning experiences – and especially values the opportunities she has found working with concertmaster David Halen.

“I’ve actually known David since when I was little and in the Suzuki program,” she recalls. “David used to come over and do special performances for the students. Then when I was in the youth orchestra, I had the opportunity to play in performances with him on occasion. I also had the chance to work with him the one year I attended the Aspen Music Festival where he teaches. And now with my duties as assistant concertmaster, I have the opportunity to learn from him throughout the concert season. It’s been a great experience!”

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.