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Bemidji Symphony Orchestra: Young cellist to solo in 'Triumph of Youth'

Eric Haugen practices for his solo performance of Camille Saint-Saens' Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in A minor, op.33 at Bemidji Symphony Orchestra Concert, "Triumph of Youth" at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Bemidji High School Auditorium. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

When Eric Haugen began playing his 100-year-old French cello during a recent interview session, the music filled the air in the room with a commanding presence.

This teen musician played with the intensity of a concert performer, even for the one person in the room.

Eric will play as featured soloist the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in A minor, op. 33 by Camille Saint-Saens during the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra's "Triumph of Youth" Concert at 3 p.m., Sunday, March 7, in the Bemidji High School Auditorium.

Eric was exposed to music at an early age by his parents, Mark and Nancy Haugen, who noticed his ability to sing on pitch. They offered him a variety of music and musical styles, but it was his own initiative that drew him to the cello.

"He was watching a friend play the cello and said, 'I'd like to try that,'" remembers his mother.

This is not so unusual except for the fact that he was 3 years old - 3 ½ to be exact.

"I was 3½ when I first wanted to play the cello because my best friend at the time was playing, so I told my parents, and they said they would give it a try," Eric said. "I started to play on a Styrofoam cello, and I didn't have a real bow or anything. I started with Sonja Connell at the Headwaters School and have stuck with it since that time. Once I started, I caught on really fast. My friend stopped playing when he was about 9 or 10. My mother would play along with me on the piano, which was her father's."

Eric started with the Suzuki Method, which teaches youngsters to play by ear. One starts with "Twinkle, Twinkle," which is a Mozart piece he wrote when he was a child. Haugen stayed with the method through Book 9 and then started to branch out to other concertos. He is at this time working on a piece in Book 10.

"I think I did love it (the cello) at first but not to the extent that I do today," Eric said. "I definitely will look into being a professional musician. I am looking at a couple of colleges and will tour them this summer and do some auditions."

Eric said he is looking at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and Oberlin College outside Cleveland, Ohio, and Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. Eastman is one of the top cello schools in the country.

"Last summer, I had a master class with Steven Doane from the Eastman School at the Bowdoin Music Festival," Eric said.

He also studied with Peter Howard and now takes his lessons from the Howard, a retired principal cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The lessons are three to four hours long because Eric only goes down to the Twin Cities about once a month.

"I know when I go down there I need to buckle down and work," said Eric.

His concentration and devotion to the instrument has caught the attention of professional musicians and judges. Eric was named first place winner in the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition in February, 2009.

Beverly Everett, conductor and music director of the BSO, agrees that Haugen is a talented musician. "He brings so much vibrancy to the music and is incredibly solid and expressive," she said. "Watching Eric grow is a special honor. He is an important member of the BSO and has been for over four years now, and I am thrilled to showcase him in this concert."

Comments about his concentration and dedication to playing can be heard from fellow musicians in the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra such as Ann Hayes, who has played violin with the orchestra for a long time.

"When he plays, he is so directed, that is where all his expressions of music come out," said Hayes.

Everett proved her confidence in this young player by inviting him to perform with the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra last month. After playing the Saint-Saens Concert with the orchestra, the audience rose to its feet for a standing ovation and several curtain calls.

Eric said he knows he is a role model and an inspiration for other string students.

"I think it would be cool to be a part of a large traveling orchestra, but it's nice to be a soloist as well," he said. "I think that every kid should learn how to play a musical instrument. Academically, the cello has helped me with memorization and dedication. If you look at the grades of the students in the orchestra program, they are generally a bit higher than the average. Starting to read music at an early age seems to help learning to read as well."

Although Eric started first grade at Northern School, Schoolcraft Learning Community opened up, and he switched there from the second to eighth grade. He is now a junior at Bemidji High School and is proud of his 4.0 average.

Tickets for Sunday's concert are on sale now at Lueken's Village Foods North and at the door the day of performance. They cost $15 for regular admission, $10 for students and seniors and free for students of Bemidji School District.