‘It Was Very Inspiring’: Brookfield Violinist Brings His Gift to WBHS

By Samantha Dietel, Current Staff

It’s not every day the West Bend High Schools host a teenage musical prodigy.

Julian Rhee, a 17-year-old violinist and winner of numerous music competitions, visited WBHS orchestra students for an event Friday morning. He performed two pieces for the students before allowing West Bend soloists to take the stage. Standing before an auditorium filled with their orchestral peers, the three students each played their own solos for Rhee to critique and provide feedback on. Rhee also assessed a performance by the Chamber Strings ensemble.

The West Bend soloists who performed were Badger Middle School eighth grader Katya Potkonjak and West juniors Ian Vanderkinter and Owen Vincent. Rhee made various suggestions to help them improve their pieces, such as different bowing techniques and other stylistic tips.

After the event, Vanderkinter reflected on his experience with Rhee.

West junior Ian Vanderkinter played a famous sonata by Johann S. Bach for Julian Rhee on Friday. Photo by Samantha Dietel, Current Staff.

“Working with Julian Rhee, or even listening to him, was an experience that can’t be replaced,” Vanderkinter said. “It was very inspiring to see someone play at that level, but also it was even more amazing that he is about the same age as me. To see that anyone who shows the determination can reach that level is something that is absolutely amazing.”

Vanderkinter added that while it was incredible to be on the stage with Rhee, it was also intimidating. Still, he found the opportunity to be insightful and useful for his progression as a violinist.

Even the other orchestra students in attendance that did not work with Rhee found the event to be valuable.

“I think it really helps me because I could see how he acted and how he played—just the way that he moved,” said East junior Calliana Wickus. “It really helped me because in the past, I’ve had a problem with playing really stationary and not moving at all, but he was just so fluid and you could see his emotion in his work. That is definitely something that I will aspire to do in my future orchestra playing.”

Julian Rhee worked Friday with the members of the WBHS Chamber Strings orchestra. Photo by Lily Mottet, Current Staff.

West sophomore Megan Wagner found Rhee’s performance and critiques to be tremendously inspiring.

“It could really inspire us to eventually try and progress to his level someday,” she said. “Seeing what he’s accomplished so far at a young age—that’s really inspiring.”

Despite being only a senior at Brookfield East High School, Rhee plays music at a professional level. Not only has he won prizes and competitions with his musical talent, but he has also accompanied many distinguished orchestras as a soloist, including the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

“He is essentially a professional musician who’s a teenager,” said orchestra teacher Seth Matuszak. “He’s able to play expressively and technically on a whole different level.”

Rhee is scheduled to perform with the Wisconsin Philharmonic at 3 p.m. March 11 inside the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.

(Top image: Before working with the WBHS orchestra students Friday, Julian Rhee performed two pieces for them. Photo by Samantha Dietel, Current Staff.)

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