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July 25, 2014

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PEOPLE IN THE ARTS:

De Ann Letourneau, concertmaster for the Las Vegas Philharmonic

A weekly snapshot of creative people living in the Las Vegas Valley

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Tiffany Brown

De Ann Letourneau, the concertmaster (top violinist) for the Las Vegas Philharmonic, is a mother of three: from left, Gracie, 7, Rosie, 4, and Faith, 2 1/2, who have all begun playing as well. Letourneau began playing by ear and competed before she could even read music.

Name:De Ann Letourneau, concertmaster for the Las Vegas Philharmonic

Age: 41

Education: University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, bachelor’s degree

The skinny: As first violinist, Letourneau is a popular figure on the local classical music scene, which isn’t so remote that she doesn’t get noticed at the store or the gas station. The violinist and music teacher has three daughters with her husband, Scott. Each daughter plays violin — Gracie, 7, Rosie, 4, and Faith, 2 1/2. Their dog, Mozart, is a Lhasa Apso.

On performing: “I know how important arts are to people. Making them feel great for an hour and a half, that is worth a million dollars. It’s not about me or even the orchestra, but how we as an orchestra make you feel.”

Living in Las Vegas: “I love it,” says the funny and jovial Letourneau. “The climate here is perfect. This is the Wild West of music or arts. People ask, ‘Don’t you want to come back to a big orchestra?’ I say ‘No’ because we get to create it here. This is groundbreaking. You want to start an art gallery, go for it. You want to start a recital series? Go for it. You want to start a pops series? Go for it.”

Early training: Growing up in the small port city of Superior, Wis., Letourneau, an enormously talented musician who could play anything by ear, didn’t have many competitive and training options. She learned from the masters on videotape, a suggestion made by her teacher, Diane Balco, who knew she had taken Letourneau as far as she could.

“You listen to those and that’s who’s going to teach you,” her teacher said when it was clear Letourneau’s parents didn’t want to send their daughter off to Juilliard as a teen.

By then Letourneau, 16, had been playing for eight years, but had become serious about the instrument only in the previous two years, when an injury caused her to give up competitive ice skating. She became a self-taught student. Balco coached.

The incidental breakthrough: Letourneau competed and did well, but she couldn’t read music. She realized the gravity of that problem while a student at an intensive summer music festival in Wisconsin, for which she auditioned. The festival, filled with talented students from across the country, was a pivotal moment for the “nobody” girl from Superior, who had never seen or heard anything like it before. In addition to not knowing how to sight read, she learned that she played the instrument incorrectly. A teacher spent the next eight weeks correcting her position and sent Letourneau back to Superior to study with Balco, concertmaster for the Duluth-Superior Symphony, who needed to be persuaded to take such a young student, then demanded that Letourneau practice three or four hours a day or she wouldn’t teach her. For the next year Letourneau played nothing but etudes and scales.

Schooling: Her dream was to study with Dorothy DeLay, one of the world’s most famous violin teachers, who taught prominent musicians at Juilliard. Her plan was to attend Curtis Institute of Music with her music friends, who included Lara St. John. The professor with whom she hoped to study was not an option because of changes at the school, but DeLay would become a reality. Depressed and studying at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Letourneau was about to quit violin and find a new major when Balco told her of a competition, in which the winner would study with DeLay at the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music.

Letourneau practiced feverishly, but three minutes into a Tchaikovsky piece, she had a memory slip and had to start over. Knowing that this was her last performance, Letourneau let loose, played with her own voice and everything she had. She was stopped after another three minutes, thanked and was told, “That will be all.”

Her devastation was brief. She placed first. DeLay told her, “When you stopped and you came back and played, that’s what I’m looking for.”

Getting to Vegas: Letourneau was an established musician, performing in the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra when she met the man she would marry and move to Las Vegas to be with. The music scene was not nearly as rich as in Cincinnati. But it was 1995, Letourneau was 27 and Las Vegas seemed like a good place to establish a solo career and travel from. She performed all over the world and was a member of the Nevada Chamber Symphony. Letourneau joined the Las Vegas Philharmonic shortly after it formed.

On teaching: She teaches in a small studio at home and looks at teaching in terms of coaching. Let the students experiment. She’ll coach. She loves teaching, passing on information she has been given over the years. “I love the fact that everything I teach them in violin goes into their confidence and their school work. Knowing that you can shape someone’s future, not just in violin, that’s just so much fun for me.”

Other interests: “Anything outdoors.” Spends summers with family at their Wisconsin cabin sitting on the porch, smelling the woods, hearing the breeze and the birds. “I don’t know how to play tennis, but I think I’d love to learn to play tennis. If I had the body for it, I’d love to be a ballet dancer.”

Sticking around? “Las Vegas is going to be our home for a long time.”

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