It’s a place most musicians can only dream of visiting, let alone playing in. It’s an accomplishment that looks incredible on any musician’s résumé. It’s a national historic landmark and center of American culture.
Opened in 1891 and renowned around the world for its classic architecture, Carnegie Hall has been home to thousands of concerts of the most famous and respected musicians around the world from Yo Yo Ma to Joshua Bell.
And up until this year, it was all a dream for senior violinist Natalie Sterba. This year, her dreams finally manifested into reality.
Sterba was selected to be a part of the 2017 High School Honors Performance Series. The program gives elite high school performers an opportunity to travel to New York City and play at Carnegie Hall under the expertise of accomplished conductors with professional musicians as their audience. The program’s admission is highly competitive. Out of more than 18,000 nominations from all over the country, only the 750 most gifted performers are chosen. This year’s series ran from Feb. 2 to Feb. 6.
“You always hear about how that’s when you’ve made it, when you make it to Carnegie,” Sterba said.
It all started at age 7. Sterba started playing violin under the influence of her musically inclined father who had been in a band for a long time. She had originally started on the piano, but once the violin program started at Standing Bear Elementary, she decided to give it a try.
“I kind of just saw it and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Sterba said. She eventually fell in love with the instrument and began to really perfect her craft. Little did she know that 10 years later, she would be playing on one of the biggest stages of them all.
Sterba also auditioned for the program in 2016 after she saw Brooklyn Venteicher ’15 go through the process her junior year. She was chosen as a first runner-up, meaning that she would get to go if someone ahead of her dropped out.
She did not get discouraged, though, instead going through the process again this year.
Sterba arrived the Big Apple with her parents on Feb. 2 in the midst of a huge group of student performers at the airport. After about an hour of waiting, they arrived to their hotel and were split into groups of 15 people.
“My group was super diverse with a bunch of people from different states who play different instruments,” Sterba said. Afterwards, the group went out to eat and got to know each other. The real work started the next morning, when the performers began rehearsals. To make up for the strenuous eight hours of practice every day, the trip also included various social activities through the evenings. One of Sterba’s favorites was the third night when the group got to see a Broadway show of their choice.
“Seeing ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was amazing,” Sterba said. “It was cool to see the live orchestra because it’s like another path you could take with music.”
Other activities included a tour of Times Square and a yacht party after the concert.
However, these could not compete with the experience of playing at Carnegie.
“Playing at Carnegie is almost like a different level,” Sterba said. “I walked in and immediately started tearing up because it’s magical. There’s so much history in the building.”
“When you start playing, the noise just carries to the back and bounces back,” Sterba said. “It was just this feeling like you’ve made it.”
Amongst the many emotions Sterba felt in arriving at Carnegie, apprehension was not one of them. “I just felt excited. Once you’re there, you’re with a bunch of people there for the same reason,” Sterba said.
After going to camps where people just performed music as a hobby or because their parents made them, Sterba was inspired to see the dedication that her fellow high school musicians showed towards their craft.
“Everyone is there because they want to do music in the future…It just feels like you’re supposed to be there.”
Former instrumental music director Mrs. Rachel Misiolek ’98 is someone who has experienced Sterba’s love for music.
“Natalie is a hard-working, extremely motivated student who sets high goals for herself” Misiolek said. Misiolek taught at Marian for 10 years from 2005-2016 and has seen her fair share of talented musicians but was impressed with the high expectations Sterba has for herself.
Misiolek also said that the program is a great opportunity for young people to see what it’s like to play in professional spaces.
“The acoustics in these recital halls really set the stage for having tremendous performances. It motivates students to see what they could achieve. I’m very excited Natalie got this opportunity,” Misiolek said.
Sterba plans to use the experience as a stepping stone for future endeavors. She plans to go into violin performance next year in college, although she has yet to decide which school is right for her.