Drew Irvin returns to Columbia to perform Tchaikovsky concerto

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 | 5:23 p.m. CDT; updated 10:32 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 23, 2008
Drew Irvin will be giving a concert on Saturday at Missouri United Methodist Church.

This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Drew Irvin's last name.

COLUMBIA — Drew Irvin's music took him to Wisconsin, North Carolina, New York, Arizona, Arkansas, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Now one of the most challenging compositions in classical music, Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major, brings him home.

The 37-year-old concertmaster for the Arkansas Symphony will perform the concerto as part of the Missouri United Methodist Church's concert series. Irvin played with the 9th Street Philharmonic Orchestra once before on Sept. 27 for the concert series' kickoff. The concert Saturday will feature him on violin.

If you go

What: 9th Street Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring violinist Drew Irvin, part of the Missouri United Methodist Concert Series

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St.

Admission: $10

Alex Innecco, music director for the concert series, said he solicited Irvin after he played for the Christmas Eve service at Missouri United Methodist Church last year. Innecco selected Tchaikovsky's concerto because it is considered to be a true test of a violinist's skill.

"I think in one moment we cover the entire register of the violin," Irvin said.

He practices the concerto for about four hours a day so that when it is time to play on Saturday, he will be ready for the 36-minute piece. He gets one shot to play it right, he said, and wants it to be perfect.

The audience will be full of familiar faces. In addition to former classmates and friends, most of Irvin's family still live in the area.

"We are delighted that he's going to play in Columbia," his mother, Genie Irvin, said. She hopes that Drew's three older siblings, Bill, Rob and Anita, and their families will make it to the concert.

Drew Irvin is looking forward to playing in Columbia for an additional reason. While it is sometimes difficult to generate community interest in classical music, Irvin said, his hometown is different from other venues he has played.

"Columbia, for its size, is extremely receptive," he said. The number of cultural activities the city offers impresses him. "It was good when I was a kid, but it's amazing now."

Just as Columbia's music scene developed, so did Irvin's appreciation for instrumental music. While he was singing for family and friends at a young age, he did not always show the same affinity for instruments. Before the Arkansas Symphony, before his performances at the Heidelberg Castle Festival in Germany, before the Stevens Point, Wis., music camp, Irvin played the piano. He started taking lessons when he was 4, but it was a short career: Six months later, he quit.

His father, William "Widgie" Irvin, and his wife did not force their children to continue music lessons, Genie Irvin said. If it was obvious they did not want to continue, they could quit.

In elementary school, Irvin wanted to play the flute. When he went to the music director's open house, he was told he did not have the mouth to play the flute. Instead, the director encouraged him to play the violin. He took to it immediately. As his sister, Anita Poore, described it, before the violin, Irvin collected trains. But once he found the violin, he forgot about the trains.

"No matter what he does he jumps in with both feet," Poore said.

While her mother encouraged the other children to practice their instruments, Poore said the family had to get Irvin to stop practicing. And he did not always play as beautifully as he does now, Poore said; it was a running joke that the siblings wanted him to go to the barn to practice.

After about a year of group lessons through the elementary school, Irvin started taking Suzuki lessons outside of class. Suzuki students start as young as 3 so for a while, Poore said, he stood about a head taller than the rest of the class. His determination, however, allowed him to advance through the program quickly. Irvin motivated himself, his parents said. He set his goals higher, trained his fingers harder, practiced longer; he became the musician he wanted.

Irvin commuted to Hickman High School's orchestra practice because his high school, Rock Bridge, did not have one. At Rock Bridge, however, he took advantage of what was available, playing bass in the jazz band and glockenspiel in the marching band. He sang in the show and concert choirs.

"He signed up for just about every musical opportunity he could get," Genie Irvin said.

Somewhere in between music lessons and summer camps, Irvin decided he wanted to be a professional musician.  "At one point I realized it was performing that I was loving and what I was best at," he said.

He attended MU for two years and studied with Carolyn Kenneson and John McLeod before transferring to the North Carolina School of the Arts. He went to graduate school at Eastman School of Music in New York and took a job in Phoenix, Ariz., after earning his master's degree. Although Irvin said that his job in Phoenix was one of his favorites, he could not pass up a job with benefits. When he won the job, he moved to Little Rock.

In his spare time, he sings with a choir in Arkansas and gives private lessons. It is his latest hobby, however, that warrants a new nickname among his nieces and nephews: Ironman Drew. Last year, Irvin participated in the Ironman competition in Louisville, Ky., which includes a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon.

"It's less about the fitness level and more about mental endurance," Irvin said. "Just like playing."

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