April 17, 2019

Student Violinist Shannon Lee's Road to CIM Has Been an Eventful One

Shannon Lee

World-renowned violinist and Cleveland Institute of Music faculty member Jaime Laredo tells a story that is the essence of one of his students, Shannon Lee, who also has studied with CIM faculty Jan Sloman since age 8.

When Lee, a master’s degree student and CIM’s inaugural Mary Hamlin Memorial Presidential Scholar, was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, the school’s computer system suddenly went down. Lee, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Columbia University in 2013, helped fix it.

“That’s Shannon – one of the most extraordinarily gifted people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” Laredo said. “It doesn’t matter what she does. She does everything well. She is special and has a unique way of playing. I’m very happy she stayed with the violin.”

That’s high praise coming from one of the world’s most acclaimed and celebrated violinists.

“Playing the violin has always been what I love to do, though I did enjoy computer science,” said Lee, who had a CS internship at Bank of America in Dallas, TX. “It (computer science) has a great teamwork atmosphere and taught me how to work well in a group, whether it’s at a company or in a small ensemble or large orchestra. But I always made sure to keep studying the violin while I was at Columbia because the violin and the music mattered most to me.”

Born in Canada to engineer parents and raised in the Dallas suburb of Plano, TX, Lee began studying violin at age 4 and made her solo debut at 12 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Two years later she performed in Europe with Christof Perick and the Nuremberg Philharmonic. In addition to Sloman and Laredo, she has studied with such artists as the late David Nadien, former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and Arnold Steinhardt, legendary violinist who founded the world-renowned Guarnieri String Quartet. While at Curtis, Lee also studied with acclaimed violist and violinist Ida Kavafian, who also is on the faculty of the Juilliard School and Bard Conservatory of Music and an artist-member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and former violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio.   

In 2018 alone, Lee won second prize in the Naumberg International Competition, Laureate and Best Performance of an Ysaӱe Sonata in the 10th International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and first prize of the Artists Series Concerts of Sarasota National Competition for Strings. She also served as concertmaster of the CIM Orchestra for the last concert of the season April 12.

For Sloman, her longtime teacher, he says while he is proud of all the accolades she has received, he points out that it is Lee’s work ethic, natural talent and honesty in her playing that have brought her to the highest levels of violin performance.

“I have worked with Shannon since she was 8 years old. This relationship with her and her family has been a great joy in my life,” Sloman said. “Intellectually as well as musically gifted, Shannon is charming, has a big sense of humor and is a dazzling intellect who can tear your heart out with the violin. Her playing is extraordinary in every way – with the broadest possible technical and expressive abilities at her command. Her playing is pure and honest, powerful and compelling, totally without artifice of any kind. Shannon represents the absolutely highest level of achievement in the world of the violin.”

Lee is just as effusive in her admiration for Sloman and Laredo.

“They are both wonderful coaches for me,” she said. “They’re very tough, but that’s what I need. They have big personalities who are very generous in spirit and kindness.”

Currently, the well-traveled Lee is preparing for three of the most popular violin competitions in the world: the Queen Elisabeth later this month in Belgium; the Michael Hill International in New Zealand in late May; and the Sendai Violin Competition in Japan in June.

Praised universally by her teachers, respected by her fellow students and judged regularly by classical music luminaries all over the world, Lee remains focused, introspective and humble, as well as very relaxed about her future.

“I plan to keep all my options open,” she said. “I’ll wait until after the competitions to figure out which direction I want to go once I finish my studies at CIM.”

Whatever she chooses to do, her teachers have no doubt she will be successful.

“I have been lucky to teach some of the most extraordinarily gifted people ever – many of whom have major careers,” Laredo said. “I can honestly say that Shannon is right up there with anyone I’ve worked with. I listen to her play and all of a sudden I’m hearing the great artists I grew up listening to – (Jascha) Heifetz and many of the great violinists of the past – she’s that good.”