Violinist Milenkovich brings talent, drive to Manchester, July 6

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My first contact with Stefan Milenkovich was while he was walking around the small, ranch town, Round Top, Texas (pop. 90) trying not to lose cellphone service. We weren't successful that day, but a week later we were able to connect when he arrived back home in Chicago to talk about his career in chamber music.

Milenkovich hails from a musical family, his mother was a pianist and his father played the violin. At three years old, he performed violin in public for the first time. At five he made his debut with the local orchestra and at seven won his first of many competitions. With his parents' connections, by nine years old he was performing more than 100 times a year.

The family lived in Belgrade, Serbi, and when the Yugoslav Wars began in the late 20th century, they collectively realized that their way out of the country was Stefan's impressive violin talent. As a 15-year-old, he began practicing for over eight hours each day, and within two years had entered ten international violin competitions. He won all ten.

His talent was undeniable and the global music community took notice. Milenkovich was invited by famed instructor Dorothy DeLay to join her at The Julliard School in New York. There, he excelled and became her teaching assistant as well as the teaching assistant of conductor and pedagogue Itzhak Perlman.

Now a professor himself at the University of Illinois, Milenkovich gets incredibly excited about working with prospective musicians, violin or otherwise.

Of aspiring violinists, he says with a laugh, "anyone who is interested in playing violin is crazy!" Recognizing that it is incredibly difficult, he is passionate about taking every opportunity to nurture not just someone playing violin, but the human who has set out to learn this difficult skill. "Their desire to pursue this deserves the utmost respect and support. No matter how much time I have with students, I'd like them to take something valuable out of the experience for both the immediate and the long term so that they can carry it with them."

Outside of teaching, Milenkovich is still a much-in-demand performer, and his career brings him to stages around the world with some of its best classical and rock musicians (and to places like rural Texas). He reunites here in Manchester with Manchester Music Festival's artistic director, Adam Neiman (piano) after playing together for years while at Julliard. The two have performed many times alongside accomplished violist Brian Chen and on July 6, the trio will be joined by Bion Tsang (cello), an experience Milenkovich is delighted to take part in. One particular piece, composed by Richard Strauss, he is particularly excited to perform as he says it is "an amazing composition that is up there as one of the best piano quartets."

When not playing violin, Milenkovich spends his time doing martial arts and yoga, is an experienced sky diver, and has ridden across the United States on a motorcycle, twice. He tells me he believes that one is a better musician for experiencing as much of the world as possible. "It's a challenge to present concertos that have been around so long in a fresh way," he says, "and to experience the world and self and reflect that inspiration in the music is what can make a particular expression of it so compelling."

Stefan Milenkovich performs with Manchester Music Festival at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 6 at Southern Vermont Arts Center. The public can also watch his teaching in action at a masterclass at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 8, where he will work with students of MMF's young artist program.

More information on Stefan Milenkovich and tickets to his appearances with Manchester Music Festival are available at www.mmfvt.org.

Meredith Whatley is director of marketing for Mountain Media LLC, which is providing media and marketing support for Manchester Music Festival's 2017 season.

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