LAFAYETTE -- Twenty-nine years after Juliana Athayde first laid her 2-year old hands on her mother's violin, the 31-year old concertmaster of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in New York is coming home to make her Gold Coast Chamber Players' premier in a season-opening doubleheader on Sept. 21 and 22.
Returning to perform in the musical backyard her educator parents provided -- her father Bob is Lamorinda's very public "man of jazz," and her mother Julie is a "behind the scenes guru" of the violin and her four children's' careers -- Athayde is pumped.
"I know all but one of the members of the group," she says, about the four colleagues she will meet for fewer rehearsals than can be counted on one hand. "When musicians come together, it's a very nonverbal experience, and we can relate together just through our playing. The best performances have spontaneity."
Spoken like a true daughter of a jazz musician, Juliana Athayde says she inherited her father's "worker bee" mentality and his love of the hunt.
"On a subconscious level, he taught me to believe in my own voice," she says.
From her mother, Athayde developed what every great musician must have -- an enthralling, all-consuming adoration of music. Entranced by the smell of musty instrument cases, dazzled by the backstage machinations, her childhood dreams became reality.
In 2005, Athayde was appointed as RPO's youngest-ever concertmaster.
"There were people here who had had their jobs longer than I'd been on this earth!" she exclaims, in an interview from her home in New York shortly before her arrival in Lamorinda. "The stereotype was an older male, very stately. I was a person who would grow into a mature leader for the orchestra."
Her father, admittedly biased, attributes her rapid musical ascent to nature and nurture.
"I remember being on my front lawn when she was 5," Bob Athayde recounted. "I was tuning her violin. She has perfect pitch and she said, 'You're a fine trumpet player, Daddy, but you can't tune a violin.' She took it and tuned it herself."
Athayde also has her head 100 percent in the game, he claims, after she learned how to practice from her primary teachers, Dorothy Lee, Zoya Leybin and her mother.
"My wife talked a lot about musical ideas when she accompanied Juliana to lessons," he says. "If you listen to a recording, what you will hear from her playing is that it won't just be clean. It will jump out at you as soulful."
Juliana says her parents never pushed her to pursue music as a career, but that it was inevitable.
"Before my second birthday, there's a story about my grandparents taking me to have my picture taken at Sears. I was not OK with leaving the violin at home. I was not OK with not holding it in the portrait. Guess what? The picture is of me holding the violin, a look of sheer joy on my face."
The September concerts will feed both Athayde's addiction to exploration and her innate, pied-piper desire to communicate through sound.
The A Minor String Quintet by Alexander Glazunov is a rare work that is new to her and will feature an added cellist, Amos Yang, assistant principal cellist with the San Francisco Symphony, It and the Franz Schubert String Quintet in C Major are Romantic-era works with rich layering and memorable melodies.
"People may not know them by name, but they'll leave humming," Juliana promises.
Her father plans to withhold any musical advice for his daughter ("I don't say anything because she'll play a 45-minute concerto by memory and I can only play a three-minute pop song!") He is less reticent when it comes to everyone else.
"She'll get into the zone, like any great athlete. Go listen to her play and see if she knocks you out musically," he insists.
With the tables turned, Juliana Athayde offers counsel to today's young musicians.
"The first thing you need is to love it. The second is: Now is the time. By the time you get to college, it's too late. You need to put in serious work right now," she states.
Then, perhaps noticing the strident tenor of her declaration, she adds an "Athayde encore," courtesy of her open-minded upbringing: "If you don't want to do it as a profession, that's OK. We need audiences who love music, too."
When: Sept. 21 and 22
Where: Orinda Public Library, 8 p.m. Friday; Community Hall, Lafayette Library, 7:30 p.m. Saturday