Performance absence tugs at his viola, heart strings

Adela Talbot // Western NewsChristian Wrona, a viola player and fourth-year Computer Science and Actuarial Science student, will be sharing the stage with the JUNO-nominated ensemble Gryphon Trio as part of JUNOFest, leading up to the Juno Awards in London, set for March 17.

When Christian Wrona arrived at Western four years ago, he shelved his viola. After more than a decade and a half with the instrument, he was at an impasse. Forgoing playing, he shifted his time and attention to Computer, Statistical and Actuarial Sciences.

But the itch to perform never went away.

Today, Wrona is not only playing the instrument he loves again, but he will share the stage with a JUNO-nominated ensemble as part of JUNOFest, leading up to the Juno Awards March 17 in London. Wrona will be a guest performer for Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, joining the trio and guest Sarah Jeffery of the Toronto Symphony.

“I stopped playing in first year and didn’t play for a whole year; I didn’t think I would end up pursuing it. But I missed it too much. I wanted to try to go back to playing,” he said. “I asked the conductor if I could play in the school orchestra as a non-Music student. He forwarded the e-mail to (Don Wright Faculty of Music professor) Sharon Wei and she kind of poached me into joining the viola studio.”

In response to his inquiry, Wei had a proposal. There were few viola players and Wei, one of the most respected violists on the scene today, saw an opportunity. Wrona could “help out” the orchestra by filling that gap and, in exchange, she would offer him viola lessons.

“That kick-started everything,” he said.

“First year, I didn’t play at all. After that, I was motivated to practice so much. She gave me this opportunity. Sharon is a big deal in Canada. The fact she’s teaching at Western is huge. I didn’t come here for Music, but she’s probably the best viola professor in the country. And she is here – and teaching me.”

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Today, Wrona has attracted widespread attention for his natural, virtuosic command of the viola and his mature, impassioned musicianship. As well as being a recipient of a 2018 Maritsa Brookes Concerto Competition Award, he has toured with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO).

During the NYO’s Canada 150 tour, he performed in world-class halls, such as La Maison Symphonique, the National Arts Centre and Koerner Hall. Having studied with violist Nicholas Penny of McGill University and violinist Myron Moskalyk of The Julliard School, Wrona is now pursuing a Performance diploma on a scholarship at Western, in addition to his Computer Science and Actuarial Science degree.

Wrona’s opportunity at JUNOFest came just a few weeks ago, in time for his 22nd birthday. Initially approached to perform, Wei is unable to attend. She suggested Wrona take her place and the Gryphon Trio accepted.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Wrona said about playing with the Canadian classical music ensemble, won have two Juno Awards themselves for recordings released on the Analekta label. “This is probably the biggest performance I will have had. It will help with applying to grad school; it is good experience, playing with such high-profile people.”

His return to the viola has impacted him more than he expected. So much so, he is now enthusiastic to continue with  music as a career avenue after he leaves Western.

“I actually want to go into music now. NYO opened my eyes to possibilities. Seeing how much I missed it in first year, and when I came back to it, I knew I needed it in my life. I want to see how far I can push it and take it. If I can make that a career, I’d much rather do that,” he said.

“Performing is in my heart.”

JUNOfest is an annual music celebration featuring a roster of Canadian artists across all genres. More than 100 musical acts, including local London artists, 2019 JUNO Award nominees, and some of Canada’s top touring talent will hit London stages March 15-16. The event has showcased more than 1,000 artists and bands of all backgrounds and genres including, Alexisonfire, Arkells, Bedouin Soundclash, Billy Talent, Classified, Feist, Jully Black, Kardinal Offishall, Marianas Trench, Matt Mays, Metric, Ria Mae, Sam Roberts, Shad, The Sheepdogs, Sloan, and hundreds more.

Wrona will perform at The Aeolian Hall, Saturday, March 16, as part of JUNOfest Classical.

The JUNOs are Canada’s showcase of music excellence and include dozens of events taking place in London from March 11-17. They culminate in a televised awards ceremony Sunday, March 17.