Mariko Shimasaki isn’t going to dissuade people from calling her and her older sister, Kanako, prodigies.
“You can call us prodigies. It’s a nice compliment,” said Mariko, a senior at Kenton Ridge High School who’s been mastering the violin since age 5.
“We’re not exactly prodigies,” she clarified. “We just learned to make an effort.”
All that hard work has led to Mariko, 17, earning a title that can’t be disputed — musical ambassador of the United States.
The local teen has won a spot in the violin section of the inaugural National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
Assembled by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, the orchestra will spread musical goodwill this summer on a tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia and then to London. According to the Carnegie Hall website, the orchestra will be made up of “120 of the brightest young players from across the country.”
“I’m very honored to be in the first one,” Mariko said.
The orchestra will be under the baton of Grammy-winning conductor Valery Gergiev, and will feature Grammy-winning violinist Joshua Bell on Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto,” “which is my favorite piece,” she said.
“Everything is coming together,” she added, “and it’s amazing.”
Mariko, who’s taken first place in concerto competitions hosted by the Columbus Symphony and Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, isn’t your typical KR student.
“I gave up things like prom and homecoming so I could practice,” she explained.
Her daily routine includes six hours of practice.
“I just put off my homework until the end of the night,” she confessed, “even if it means I’m finishing my homework at 3 a.m.”
Mariko also takes a rigorous amount of pre-college coursework through the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where her sister is now a full-time student.
Kanako, who began playing violin at age 4, will return home next January to perform Ravel’s “Tzigane” with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.
They are, however, your typical sisters.
“There’s competition all the time,” Mariko said. “Since she’s older, she thinks she knows more than me.”
Their parents, longtime Springfield residents Koshin and Noriko Shimasaki, got them violins at such an early age to instill discipline in them. Neither parent is a musician.
“We learned together,” said Noriko Shimasaki, the girls’ mother, who hails originally from Kyoto, Japan.
“I don’t imagine a life without the violin,” Mariko said.