April 5, 2019

CIM Student Cellist James Hettinga Earns Spot in Semifinals of Klein Competition


In James Hettinga’s large family, classical music is a way of life. The CIM student cellist and his seven brothers and sisters are all musicians – string players to be exact. But, he says, there has never been any competition between him and his siblings over the years. At 19 and a talented and hard-working student, he comes across as cool, calm and collected.

So even with all those distractions around him it comes as no surprise to his teacher Melissa Kraut and family that Hettinga, a freshman, is one of nine semifinalists in the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, which will be held in San Francisco June 1-2. He was selected to compete in the semifinals out of 118 entrants from 17 countries.

“I’m honored and beyond excited to have been named a semifinalist for the Klein,” Hettinga said. “This is a huge opportunity. I’ll be proud to represent CIM at the competition.”

In the semifinal round, each performer is required to play an unaccompanied work of Bach, movements from notable concertos and a new commissioned piece for the competition by Carlos Oliver Simon, considered one of the country’s foremost composers of new music for large and small ensembles.

Incredibly, Hettinga has been playing cello since he was 3 years old. Even at that tender age, he would listen to classical music with his family and somehow pick out and pay careful attention to the cello parts of whichever piece was playing. His mother is a pianist. Hettinga says that his father “isn’t musical at all.”

While Hettinga says there’s never been any competition among himself and his siblings throughout his life, he can see why many people would think so. He credits his deep Christian faith with a level of peace that keeps him on an even keel in a world filled with intensive study, practice, performances and competitions. He says he uses a specific technique when playing in front of an audience, which can make even seasoned performers nervous.

“I find one person in the audience and play to that person,” he said. “I know how I would like to be moved by the music, and I want that person in the audience to be moved by it, too.”

Hettinga, of Elyria, Ohio, studies with Dr. Melissa Kraut, co-head of the cello department at CIM. Homeschooled, he began as a Young Artist Program student at CIM in what would be considered his junior year of high school.

Kraut was effusive in her praise of Hettinga’s talent, work ethic and the fact that for her student, it’s not about competing.

“James is a very thoughtful and careful worker. He asks a lot of questions to gain an understanding of the music,” Kraut said. “While he knows he wants to make music his career, to him it is all about the art, not about winning competitions.”

However, Hettinga is no stranger to winning or placing high in the competitions he’s been invited to or entered. He is one of the winners of CIM’s Concerto Competition, earning him the honor of performing as a soloist with the CIM Orchestra next fall; the co-first prize winner of the 2019 Tennessee Cello Workshop, an award he shares with CIM freshman Lydia Rhea (who also studies with Kraut); and he captured the silver medal in the junior division of the 2018 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition as a member of the Razumovsky Quartet, born out of the Young Artist Program. He’ll compete in the finals of the Mondavi Young Artists Competition at the end of April.

For the past 32 years, the Klein Competition has attracted some of the world’s finest young string players to San Francisco to compete for cash and performance prizes totaling more than $30,000. Presented by the California Music Center and San Francisco Conservatory of Music, it is open to musicians between the ages of 15 and 23. The Klein has achieved international recognition as one of the most prestigious classical music competitions, recognized for the high caliber of the contestants, its unique, nurturing environment and its commitment to the commissioning of new works.

Past Klein prize winners comprise a who’s who of the classical music artistic community, including CIM cello faculty Mark Kosower and alumnus Frank Huang (BM ’02, Donald Weilerstein), concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and principal chairs in many of the finest American orchestras such as The Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra.

Current CIM student Isabelle Ai Durrenberger, violin, won third prize in last year’s competition. She studies with Jaime Laredo.