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Young violinist to solo with Bemidji Symphony

Alan Zhou's mother wanted him to begin to play violin when he was 5 years old. Now, at age 12, he will solo with the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra playing Eduoard Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole."

The concert opens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Bemidji High School auditorium.

Zhou said he immediately liked the violin. His mother said he started with a 1/16-size instrument, the smallest size.

"My mom wanted me to try it out," Zhou said. I like to play violin because it has a beautiful sound."

Zhou and his teacher, Jonathan Sturm, concert master for the Des Moines, Iowa, Symphony and assistant professor of music history at Iowa State University, previewed the Saturday concert during an assembly on Friday morning at J.W. Smith Elementary School. They were accompanied by Beverly Everett, music director and conductor of the Bemidji Symphony. Sturm's wife, Julie Sturm, who plays cello with the Des Moines Symphony, will also join the Bemidji Symphony cello section for Saturday's concert.

Sturm will solo on "Gypsy Airs" by Pablo de Sarasate. The concert will also feature "Three Cornered Hat: Three Dances" by Manuel de Falla, a "Nocturne" by Alexander Borodin and "Cappricio Espangnole" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

"This is the first time to have a young person solo with the orchestra," said Everett.

"He's one of the most talented students I've ever had," said Sturm, a 26-year veteran teacher. "He can go all the way if he wants to."

Sturm noted that he started playing violin when he was 7, two years older than Zhou. Now, Sturm said, his young student is playing pieces he didn't master until he was 17. Zhou was born in Beijing and moved to the United States when he was 5 with his mother, Xiaochun Yang, a program analyst at Des Moines Area Community College, and father, Ziaochui Zhou, a scientist at Iowa State. The family lives in Ankeny, Iowa.

Students at J.W. Smith expressed appreciation ("Wow!") and enthusiastic applause for Sturm and Zhou's playing on Friday. They also had many questions ranging from the cost of a violin -- $200 to $2 million -- to how long Zhou practices -- about 90 minutes a day -- to Zhou's other activities -- soccer, basketball and computer. He said he likes classical and country music.

Students asked Zhou if he wanted to be a musician when he grew up. After the boy's quiet affirmative response, Sturm said, "He's on the right tract, don't you think?"

They also asked how long he needs to learn a song and whether he thought about teaching someone else violin.

"I might teach my sister," said of Alysa, who is 1 year and 10 months old.

Sturm said he and his wife are friends with Everett and arranged to perform with Zhou in the Bemidji Symphony about a year ago. Their guest performance and student clinics were made possible in part through a $3,000 grant from the First National Bank Bemidji Foundation.