WALNUT CREEK -- While Kevin Jiao may have been too young to remember how he got into playing the violin, his mother June Cao tells the story as if it just happened yesterday.
"He was 3 years old, watching a video of an orchestra playing and saw someone playing violin," said Cao. "He told me, 'Mommy, I want to play that instrument.' He watched the video three times."
By the time Kevin was 4, he was taking violin lessons and practicing on a tiny 1/16-size violin.
"He learned how to play violin right away," Cao said. "Learning to play was like a mother language to him. He would listen to CDs every day."
Kevin had to chance to continue playing the violin when he and his family moved to Shanghai, China, where he played with a school orchestra.
"He's always had a good teacher wherever he went," said Kevin's mother.
So when the family moved to Walnut Creek after living in Shanghai for four years, it was important to find a good violin teacher. Cao said they were fortunate to find viola and violin instructor Rem Djemilev, who teaches through Walnut Creek Civic Arts Education.
Kevin, now 12, will perform solos with two other young musicians, Melissa Meharg of Concord and Christopher Kim of Walnut Creek, at the Spring Concert May 28 at the Shadelands Auditorium featuring the Young Performer's Orchestra and the Diablo Regional Youth Orchestra. Those groups will play compositions by W.A. Mozart, J. Brahms and Franz Peter Schubert at this, their annual spring concert.
"Last February we had our concerto competition that was open for all members of the orchestra. We had about 16 contestants. They all did excellent job presenting their solo pieces," said Djemilev, the DRYO's conductor.
Melissa's, Kevin's and Christopher's performances will be the first of a series as other concerto competition participants will be featured in concerts later this year.
"They received great recognition and were awarded to play their pieces with a concerto ensemble made from our most advanced players of DRYO," Djemilev said. "They put a lot of extra hard work preparing their pieces. During our rehearsals with the accompanying ensemble they've gained even more excitement and maturity."
Kevin's no stranger to solo performances. He was a featured soloist twice in concerts in Shanghai when he was in the second and third grade.
"I'm still learning new things," Kevin said. "Rem's a good teacher and he's very patient."
Christopher started playing piano before switching to violin.
"I wanted to play an instrument that I can take anywhere," said Christopher, who often practices with his younger sister Elane, who also plays the violin.
Ann Kim, Christopher's mother, said playing classical music seems to help her son relieve some stress from school work.
"Music makes him calm and peaceful and it's positive for the mind," said Kim.
Christopher, 14, spends time reading the history of classical music and about the composers. Being home-schooled, he said, often makes him lonely.
"But music cheers me up," he said. "The piece I'll be performing is like a gypsy dance piece and it's a lot more fun to play. I can relax and enjoy myself because when I play classical music I have to really concentrate."
Not that he considers classical music boring -- far from it, said Christopher, who hopes younger people will listen to or learn to play classical music.
"Playing classical music helps build my confidence, especially because I was a shy kid," Christopher said. "Performing with others helps me develop teamwork. Classical music expresses emotions. When you hear the music, you can actually feel the emotions the composer is trying to convey."
Djemilev said that audience members will be treated to a rare performance.
"It's rare that the viola is featured as a solo in concert programs, especially in youth orchestras," he said.
And Melissa gets to feature that rare opportunity. The Ygnacio Valley High School student, who started playing viola in the fourth grade, has played for several years with DRYO and recently received an award for excellence from the Bay Area Music Association.
"I love the viola's rich, complex tone," said Melissa, who plans to major in music education at the University of Puget Sound. "It gets into these beautiful harmonies. I'm really excited for people to hear this instrument that they may have never heard much about. It would also be great for people to see young people excited about great music."
YOUNG PERFORMERS ORCHESTRA AND DIABLO REGIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA SPRING CONCERT
WHEN: 7 p.m. May 28
WHERE: Shadelands Auditorium, 111 N. Wiget Lane, Walnut Creek