“My entire iPod is classical music," said Solena Rizzato, an eight-grade student at Marie Murphy Junior High School.
When a blue-haired opera attendee speaks such words, one may not flinch. When uttered by a junior high student, however, eyebrows surely raise in response. But Rizzato is not your typical teen.
“In fourth grade, my teachers, Nancy Magill and Eugenia Meltzer, really inspired me and challenged me to play viola." Rizzato said, "It was actually supposed to be a punishment because I was a second chair violin and I kept begging to be first chair." The 'punishment' has become a promise; Rizzato currently plays viola in the Marie Murphy Senior Strings Orchestra under the baton of Mary Rudzinski.
Today, in addition to being a singer, Rizzato has developed into a multi-instrumentalist and a composer.
“What strikes me about her is her energy. Solena never saw a challenge that she didn’t want to take on." Rudzinski said of her pupil, "She has played violin and viola, has taught herself the cello, and then there’s piano and choir and now composition…she loves learning, and that’s a wonderful thing to see, especially at the junior high age.”
Rizzato’s parents have played a big part in her development both as a musician and a music lover.
“My mom plays the flute and piccolo, and my dad is a bassist. They always had music on in the home as long as I can remember; we’re just a musical family," she told Patch.
At the age of five, Rizzato began taking piano lessons. It was around that time that she noticed some slightly older girls carrying funny little cases on and off the school bus. “I asked for a violin for Christmas when I was five because I was so excited to play in school orchestra,” she said. She started taking orchestra classes in the first grade at Avoca West.
One of the eighth graders favorite composers is Antonín Dvořák. While most of her schoolmates might have a hard time naming a single composition by Dvořák, let alone spelling his name correctly, Rizzato speaks of the late-Romantic Period master with reverence.
“His Eighth Symphony is just amazing: all the varied tone-colors and melodies that all represent something different. I really like that," she gushed.
Meanwhile Rizzato balances her music life with being a star member of the Marie Murphy Science Olympiad squad, a near-black belt in karate and Vice-President of the Marie Murphy Student Council cabinet.
Rizzato says her typical school day can go from 7 a.m. with orchestra rehearsal until 5:30 p.m., when Science Olympiad meetings finish. After school, she attends a karate class, followed by a viola lesson and then finds time to finish homework before bed.
To this already crowded agenda, Rizzato has recently joined an intensive chamber group, with three other young musicians, which has performed works by Mendelssohn and Ginastera. This past year, she also started performing in the concert orchestra of the prestigious Midwest Young Artists under the direction of Dr. Allen Dennis.
“MYA is my home away from home,” she laughingly said.
Despite very few lessons in formal music theory, Rizzato has recently finished her first composition: Equinox in C Major, for string orchestra. She was sitting at the piano one day, trying to pick out Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D (by ear) when an inkling of the song happened upon her.
“I played this one chord and two notes—an F and an A—just made my ears perk up. I loved the sound, so I worked on it and tried going up a scale and I figured out a rhythm to it and just built off of that," she said, "I used part of Perseus (by Soon Hee Newbold), modified it, and included it in my piece."
The Senior Strings of Marie Murphy Orchestra are currently practicing Rizzato’s Equinox for an upcoming concert.
The young musician will be attending New Trier High School next year, a choice she made based on the school’s record of excellence in music. From there, Rizzato would like to attend a university with a prestigious music program and eventually lead an orchestra.
“I would love to become a music director like Maestro Ricardo Muti.”