Introducing the Violin Sisters
If you hear someone in Bermuda talking about “the violin sisters” it’s quite possible they’re referring to Naphisa and Sari Smith.
They started taking lessons on the wooden string instrument at the age of 4; public performances followed.
On Saturday, they will take the stage again, this time to raise funds for the Bermuda National Gallery.
Noted violinist Michael Foyle, guest leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Halle Orchestra and London Conchord Ensemble and a violin professor at the Royal Academy of Music, will also perform.
Does the thought scare them? Not at all.
“I used to get so nervous when I played for recitals before not even 100 people,” said Naphisa, 17. “My legs would shake badly; my hands would shake.
“But then I went to music camp, a summer intensive at Ithaca College in 2016. I auditioned to be in the advance programme and got accepted.
“It was a two-week intensive programme and I was required to practise for two hours a day,” Naphisa said. “After I came back from that I found I was not nervous playing any more. I now get a thrill from performing.”
At the moment, she and her 14-year-old sister are at the Music Institute of Chicago, taking classes with members of the Bermuda School of Music’s Suzuki Strings.
“We will be having a masterclass with Almita Vamos, who is one of the top violin teachers in the world,” Naphisa said. “We will be playing the pieces that we are performing on Saturday.
“So we are not nervous about performing on the same stage as Michael Foyle. We are very excited and also looking forward to hearing him perform.”
She’s thankful that her father, Raynard, got the ball rolling when she was young.
“It appears my dad told my mom, Michelle, that he wanted me to play the violin because he played it when he was younger,” she said. “So he signed me up at Bermuda School of Music and I’ve been playing ever since.
“I can’t actually remember starting but I do remember I used to hate practising. Now I love it.”
Sari recalls how she begged for the chance. “I remember asking my mom one time after I saw [Naphisa] practising in the library: ‘Can I start too?’.”
They’ve both had the same teacher, Jennifer Arnold, since Day 1.
Sari has dabbled a bit with the steel pan but Naphisa has always remained true to her first love.
“I’ve just grown attached,” the Bermuda College student said. “I used to hate practising so much, but now I love it. My mom doesn’t have to tell me to do it any more.
“I’ve never played another instrument. Although I like the sound of the viola, I love my violin. The viola is not as versatile.
“You can’t play the high notes as easily, it has a lower tone and doesn’t get to play the melody as often.
“I can easily travel with my violin whereas the cello and piano are too big — you can’t walk around with them.”
She’s already planning her next step.
“There are not as many music programmes as I would like at the college, so I will get my associate’s degree and then go overseas for music education and performance.
“I want to be a travelling violinist and play at a professional level with an orchestra, symphony and even conduct orchestras.”
She and her sister often perform together. It’s not unusual to see them playing on the streets.
“We busk a lot outside Washington Mall and we [have been] outside Supermart,” said Naphisa, one of eight violinists with Senior String Ensemble, the Bermuda School of Music group that took top honours at the Bermuda Festival’s On Stage Competition in January.
“It’s much easier than being on a stage. People are not standing there, staring at you. They’re walking down the street listening.”
The sisters are also members of “Bermuda’s classiest string ensemble”, String Collective.
“We perform a lot together,” laughed Naphisa.
On Saturday night the teenagers will again come together, playing Bach’s Double Violin Concerto.
“I play a lot of classical music,” Naphisa said. “Occasionally, I play modern stuff but I don’t think it sounds as good on a violin. It’s not as complex.”
Sari, who won the Bermuda School of Music’s Students of Distinction Award in 2014, added: “Classical music is way more difficult to play. Modern sounds more catchy to people who don’t understand music.”
She is also performing a solo at this weekend’s concert, Csardas by Vittorio Monti; her sister will perform Tambourin Chinois by Kriesler.
“Before, I used to get very nervous performing, but when you know a song, when you’ve practised it, you know that you will be fine,” Sari said. “If you haven’t practised, you have a right to be nervous. Last year I played Csardas and I couldn’t wait to get up on the stage.”
Violinist Foyle to perform Bach and Paganini
At 27, Michael Foyle has already made his mark as a violinist. He has received accolades and awards for his performances and premiered solo and chamber works by more than 30 living composers.
On Saturday, he will play at the Bermuda National Gallery as part of its fundraiser, The Art of Music Series.
The acclaimed musician’s programme will include J.S. Bach: Sonata for solo violin in A minor, E. Ysaye: Sonata No 1 in G minor and N. Paganini: Two Caprices.
Bermudian violin duo Naphisa and Sari Smith will open the show. British-born Mr Foyle won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Tabor Award in 2008.
He has since performed at Buckingham Palace and the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory and given recitals for the New York Chamber Music Festival, the Cervantino Festival in Mexico and the Evgeny Mravinsky Festival in Tallinn and St Petersburg.
• Saturday’s performance at City Hall begins with a reception at 5.30pm; the concert starts at 6pm. Tickets, $40 for BNG members and $50 for non-members, are available at bdatix.bm For more information: 295-9428 or firstname.lastname@example.org