JJ Silvey


Photo by Matt Dine


Co-winner, 2014 Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition, Sewanee Summer Music Festival


Montclair Orchestra, 2019–20; Aspen Music Festival, 2019; Chautauqua Institution, 2017; National Music Festival, 2017; Eastern Music Festival, 2015; Sewanee Summer Music Festival, 2014

What is your earliest memory of classical music?

Like most people, I have early memories of hearing popular pieces on television and in movies, but I was particularly inspired as a child by my first experience hearing live classical music. I remember going with my family to an outdoor summer concert of the Indianapolis Symphony and being completely awestruck to learn what an orchestra sounded like up close. It was an amazing experience, and I left with the urge to learn everything I could about the different instruments and the kinds of sounds they made.

How did you hear about TŌN? What inspired you to apply?

I first heard about TŌN from friends at school and summer festivals. I wanted to apply because it seemed like an incredible opportunity not only to make music with exciting players, but to hone my ability to speak, write, and communicate about the music I love to play. I also wanted to gain experience with public engagement, outreach, and project creation, all of which are incredibly important skills for musicians to possess today.

What do you think orchestra concerts should look like in the 21st Century?

I think that, above all, 21st-century audiences should feel invited into a personal experience each time they attend a concert. The atmosphere should be open and welcoming, and there should be nothing standing in the way of the audience’s ability to feel that the music belongs to them.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My teachers, Elaine Douvas and Linda Strommen, inspire me not only through their extraordinary artistry, but through their profound understanding of music and tireless dedication to teaching.

Which composer or genre of music do you feel you connect with the most?

I have a special affection for 20th-century French music, particularly the works of Francis Poulenc. I am amazed by his ability to depict vivid states—despair, tenderness, devotion, absurdity—in even the smallest and most subtle gestures.

What is your favorite piece of music, and why do you love it?

This changes all the time, but a piece I always come back to is Mahler’s The Song of the Earth. The work’s themes are universal, the sung text conveys profound meaning (without crossing into sentimentality), and the score is intensely gripping.

What has been your favorite experience as a musician?

It’s impossible to choose, but one of the most memorable was my first experience playing in an opera pit while I was a student at Indiana. We performed The Italian Girl in Algiers, which is full of Rossini’s characteristic charm and humor. I am a devoted opera fan, so I was totally intrigued by every aspect of the rehearsal process. I was also fortunate to be part of this while surrounded by good friends!

What is some advice you would give to your younger self?

Study and become familiar with as many of a composer’s works as you can! Just knowing the major pieces won’t give you the context necessary to create a meaningful interpretation.

Favorite non-classical musician or band

Edith Piaf

If you could play another instrument, what would it be?

I would love to be able to play the piano.