A&E » Music

Top violinist seeks skilled performers for a Sea to Sky string orchestra

Instructor Yuko Iwanaga has four violins, one cello and a double bass – but she'd like nine or 10 more string musicians in the mix



Being given an impromptu performance by a master violinist is a rare treat.

Yuko Iwanaga puts as much skill and concentration into her work, a solo interpretation of a piece of Baroque music — Bourrée in E-Minor by J.S. Bach — as she would if she was performing with the Met.

The music soars around her high-ceilinged living room without the usual distance between instrument and audience.

The occasion is taking shots of her play, but the photographer (a.k.a. me) may as well not be in the room. The only things she knows about for those few minutes are the notes on the page and how they interpret into movements with her fingers and bow.

"Was that good?" she asks when finished.


Iwanaga is handy with a bow. Are you? Can you make a violin, viola, cello or double bass sing?

If yes, then she wants to hear from you.

For more than nine years Iwanaga has taught violin to children and adults in Whistler and Squamish.

"I thought about becoming an elementary school teacher, but this is career I chose. I like it. I always wanted to work with kids, either through music or mountain stuff. I'm really into climbing, hiking and that," Iwanaga says.

Now she wants to get back on stage. To that aim she is creating the Sea to Sky String Orchestra.

In Japan, where she reached the highest level possible as a post-graduate in the Suzuki method, Iwanaga had performed in string orchestras and ensembles, and she misses performing.

"I miss so much playing with other people," she says. "I've been using CDs and just playing along, first violin, second violin — but I think I need to perform with real people."

Iwanaga already has four violins, including herself, one cello and one double bass. She believes the Sea to Sky region is ready for an orchestra.

"The orchestra doesn't have to be too big. Right now, I at least want 10 — OK, 15 — players," she laughs.

When does an ensemble or chamber group become an orchestra? Iwanaga is clearly headed in the orchestra direction.

"The more the better. I am sure there are people living here who used to play, but they maybe haven't had the opportunity to play again or haven't thought about it."

Iwanaga says she wants "any strings" that are played with a bow; along with violins, double bass and cello, she would love a few violas added to the mix.

"If you're an experienced violinist, then you should be able to play the viola. The reading is different, the size is slightly different but it is possible," she says.

And experience with stringed instruments is important in this case.

"The more experience the better, because I don't want to be teaching beginners," Iwanaga says. "It's OK to not be perfect. We all make mistakes, but I'm not there to teach bow holding."

And in case someone has a clarinet in the closet they've been dying to use, Iwanaga says no.

"Sorry, but I don't need wind or brass. All strings," she says, directing those interested to the Whistler Community Band.

Practicing for the stringed orchestra has already started, with Iwanaga meeting with her five colleagues once a week.

"We meet at a violinist's house in Whistler," says the Squamish resident. "Everyone has a different lifestyle, some have kids and other things that keep them busy, so it can be hard to get together, but once I get more people involved I want to meet at least once a month."

And will the public be able to sit down in an auditorium to hear a wonderful musical wall of stringed instruments anytime soon?

"Oh yes, we will perform," she says.

And what of the music?

"I really like Baroque. Musicians like Vivaldi and Bach, I love them," she says.

She's not restricting herself to the 17th and 18th centuries, though.

"I don't mind putting some contemporary music in, I know I need to be flexible," Iwanaga says with a smile.

Iwanaga can be reached by email at dreamthedream15@gmail.com.