Violinist Marie Leou '22 finishes with flourish

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Marie Leou in a parple shirt outside Buckly holding her violin
by Nicholas Edwards-Levin '25
May 4, 2022

Violin virtuoso Marie Leou will finish the Amherst chapter of her career with the performance of the Sibelius violin concerto on Saturday, May 7 at 8 PM with the Amherst Symphony Orchestra.

Leou began violin studies when she was just four years old. Her father, who plays the violin for pleasure, inspired Leou to take up the instrument.

“He used to play in the garage late at night, so he wouldn’t wake us up,” Leou remembered. “I grew up always listening to him and wanting to play violin just to be like him.”

Despite being only slightly taller than the instrument, 4-year-old Leou wasn’t deterred. She would take his violin, huge compared to her, and practice at home. From there, her life as a violinist started to take shape.

Taking private lessons with violin teachers, Leou began to develop as a violinist. In her high school years, competition judges recognized her incredible skill. Leou won multiple violin competitions, allowing her to perform with various orchestras in the Seattle area. The highlight of these competitions was her 2016 performance with the acclaimed Seattle Symphony.

Leou also performed in other concerts at nursing homes and children’s hospitals, which she said were especially rewarding.

“Any time you’re able to play for an audience that isn’t necessarily classically trained but still able to connect and have that emotional response — that’s really meaningful to me,” Leou said.

At Amherst, Leou said that playing violin was a less stressful but equally fulfilling experience. Rather than operating in a particularly competitive environment, which Leou often experienced during her years of high school competition, the College’s music scene is based on love for the craft, as opposed to external rewards.

“It’s been really inspiring to be around people who want to make music because they truly love it, instead of because they want to go to conservatory or win all these competitions,” Leou said. “It’s definitely different from high school, but in a good way.”

For Leou, playing music at Amherst has resulted in some of her fondest memories. According to Leou, the first in-person concert after the orchestra’s hiatus due to Covid-19 was especially special.

“Even though the audience was at half-capacity, you could feel [through] the energy that everybody was excited to be back in person,” Leou said. “The audience was really excited and very supportive, so that was cool.”

But Leou’s musical life has been about more than just performances. From chamber music performances in high school to playing in the Amherst symphony orchestra, violin has provided Leou a unique opportunity for self-expression.

“I’m not the most extroverted person, so violin really gave me a way to express myself and also connect with other people. Just the relationships I was able to build through music, whether that was going to nursing homes or, here, just playing with friends, was really special,” Leou said. 

Leou said that playing violin at Amherst also allowed her an opportunity to de-stress while still remaining social.

“Coming to Amherst, music was really something that gave me that sense of community. I think it’s really just given me something that I’m passionate about and that I’m able to devote time to,” Leou said. “It feels like a really productive kind of de-stressing, it really gives me a feeling like I’m creating something.”

Leou’s musical performances at Amherst ran the gamut of compositions by Antonín Dvořák to Edward Elgar, but her final one will be a project long in the making. Sibelius’ violin concerto, a work of massive scale, renowned for its uber-virtuosic violin writing, will be Leou’s swan song to the Amherst community. Leou said she had always wanted to play the piece in high school, but never had the chance. At the beginning of her junior year of college, now almost two years ago, Leou began to work on the piece.

“It’s been a thing I’ve lived with for a while,” Leou said. “I think I was really drawn to it because it’s really emotionally complex with a lot of moods and colors that I think are very unique to this concerto. So it’s been a really great experience, living with something for so long and then having the chance to perform it.”

Musically, Leou isn’t quite sure what will be next for her after graduation. With medical school her next academic task, she will certainly be occupied beyond practicing. But she will try to continue with violin, whether in a medical school orchestra or in a more informal setting.

So, whether her next stop with a violin is a friend’s apartment, a university concert hall or the Goldener Saal, one thing is certain: she owes it all to her hometown garage.