By Julia Munemo
Violin has always been important to Alicia Choi ’09. As a student at New York’s Stuyvesant High School, she spent every Saturday at Juilliard, where she studied chamber music and orchestra in their pre-college division. She double majored in music and Chinese at Williams, and then returned to Juilliard for her master of music.
Choi is a violinist in the Larchmere String Quartet, which was formed in 2011 and has performed across the U.S. and in Europe and Canada. She is an artist-in-residence at the University of Evansville and the associate concertmaster of the Evansville Philharmonic in Indiana, where she’s been since 2013.
The path seems straightforward from this distance, but Choi says it was anything but.
“I didn’t plan to study music in college,” she says. “I didn’t even apply to conservatory.” Choi wanted to be a doctor and came to Williams, planning to focus on the pre-med requirements. “Then I met organic chemistry, and it really didn’t like me,” she says.
Soon she discovered the Chinese program. “I was raised by Korean-born parents who never spoke to me in English at home,” Choi says. “I was excited to learn another Asian language, and thought for a while I would become a diplomat and work overseas.”
Throughout this academic flux, Choi spent hours in the practice studio with her violin. One day, an overuse injury forced her to stop playing entirely and, faced with the absence of the instrument she loved so dearly, she realized she needed to make a change. When she could practice again, she started playing only five minutes a day. “Over time, I built on that,” she says. “By the time I was back to my regular practice schedule, I knew I would make music my career.”
Choi wrote a thesis in music performance and performed twice with the Berkshire Symphony in the Williams Concerto Competition. “The second time I won the competition, they gave me the opportunity to perform the entire Korngold Violin Concerto with the guest conductor Julian Kuerti,” Choi says, aware that her experience was unique—most winners of the competition play only one movement with the Symphony.
After graduation, Choi’s transition back to Juilliard was what she calls “rough.” “I felt prepared both academically and musically,” she says. “But I realized I had no idea how to launch a career in music, especially compared to the somewhat standard steps of the pre-med route I’d once planned to take.”
Choi eventually found her way to a post-graduate chamber music program at the San Francisco Conservatory, and a colleague there recommended her to the Larchmere String Quartet. After auditioning and interviewing with the other members, the group decided they were compatible in a way this unique job requires. “A quartet is like a marriage without the perks,” Choi says, laughing. “I don’t know any other profession that combines the emotional and personal with the professional.”
In addition to her performance schedule in Evansville and around the country with the Quartet, Choi teaches master classes at the University, has several private students and performs in duos near and far. This summer, she performed at music festivals in Europe and Canada and led a residency in Harlaxton, England with the Quartet. She made it back to Evansville in time for the fall semester when her regular performances with the Philharmonic and the Quartet start up again.
“I’ll always be thankful that I went to Williams over a conservatory,” Choi says. “The music faculty gave me the support and the freedom I needed to experiment and eventually make violin my main focus.”
To learn more about Alicia Choi, visit her website.