Quite the star, Alexandra Derkaloustian, 16, secured the Concertmaster chair of the UAE’s National Youth Orchestra through blind auditions last year, and went on to reaffirm her prowess at a solo show, on winning the Concerto Competition at Dubai Opera last month. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: “When I play Bach, it’s ethereal for me. It’s not the place or the perfectly written notes, it’s being in someone’s thoughts, someone’s heart and someone’s arms. It’s a feeling of kindness and extreme, deep, honest joy. It’s divine...”

As Alexandra Derkaloustian, a student of GEMS World Academy in Dubai, speaks, it is a whisper almost. Never mind the magic she wields on the violin, the words themselves seem like music to the ears.

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Sweet 16, the Lebanese girl of Armenian origin has been playing the violin since she was a child back in hometown Beirut. Quite the star, Alexandra, who moved to Dubai in 2021, secured the Concertmaster chair of the UAE’s National Youth Orchestra through blind auditions last year, and went on to reaffirm her prowess at a solo show, on winning the Concerto Competition at Dubai Opera last month.

As her mother Shoghik Derkaloustian says, the recognition is as much for her talent as it is for the dedication and hard work she has put in over the years.

Once a pianist herself, Shoghik says: “We are a musically inclined family. My elder daughter, Mary Anne, who sang in the school choir, would attend a music class in Beirut, while Alexandra and I would wait at a music shop for the class to finish. Alexandra would use this time to toy with a violin in the shop. She must have barely been two years old then.”

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Alexandra with a violin as a little girl back in Beirut. Image Credit: Supplied

She said her husband, who was working in Dubai, happened to accompany them to the music shop on one of his visits when he noticed Alexandra’s passion for the violin and decided to get her one. “It was a one-eighth size, so small,” she recalls.

Even back then, it was evident that Alexandra had perfect pitch. “As a singer, it was Mary Anne who discovered that early on. Our home was filled with music and games related to music, so Alexandra could easily read the notes. She could also reproduce them on a consistent basis very accurately,” says a proud Shoghik.

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Alexandra with her sister Mary Anne who recognised that she had perfect pitch at an early age. Image Credit: Supplied

It was just a matter of time for Alexandra to be enrolled into formal training. “My sister-in-law, who was a piano teacher at the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music, put us in contact with a very good violin teacher. Alexandra was lucky to start private lessons with her, and soon afterwards joined the conservatory herself.”

In 2021, due to the difficult circumstances in Lebanon, Shoghik joined her husband in Dubai with Alexandra. “Mary Anne had left for higher studies in the US. It was with a very heavy heart that Alexandra left Beirut as she feared for her future in music. In fact, she continued with her teacher in Beirut virtually,” says Shoghik.

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Alexandra at an online violin class. Image Credit: Supplied
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Alexandra with her parents who have encouraged her to pursue her talent as a violinist from when she was very young.. Image Credit: Supplied

There was no stopping her talent from being tapped. Having developed her technique and sound in masterclasses with the likes of Ailen Pritichin, Pavel Berman and Eva Bindere, Alexandra was specially selected to participate in the Strings of Hope music mentorship program funded by the Goethe Institute in Beirut, where she worked with members of the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchestra to perform Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for Two Violins and Dvorak’s Bagatellen, Op. 47.

Accolades and more
Alexandra is an active performer in international competitions and has picked up numerous awards, including first prize in the 2021 George Manoliu International Music Competition in Romania, third prize in the 2021 OPUS International Music Competition in Krakow, Poland, and second prize in both the 13th and 14th editions of the Luigi Cerritelli International Music Competition. She was also a finalist in the 2021 Kreutzer International Music Competition and participated in the Josef Micka International Violin Competition in Prague, where she was awarded with the best interpretation of the composition by Pavel Kudalásek, who was himself in attendance. She has been awarded an honorary inscription from the Minister of Culture in hometown Lebanon.

In the summer of 2021, she participated in the Violin Intensive programme by Elizabeth Faidley and Amy Beth Horman and later at the New York University Summer Strings programme.

She was an active participant in the inaugural edition of the Middle East Classical Music Academy as well as the European Foundation for Support of Culture’s summer programme in Dubai. She participated in masterclasses with Haig Kazazyan and Graf Mourja, and performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor with the Kaliningrad Symphony Orchestra.

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Pursuing her musical talent while keeping with her academic commitments meant a lot of juggling. But Alexandra is very thankful to her school teachers for their constant support. Image Credit: Supplied

In February 2024, she participated in a week-long Violin Residency programme in Abu Dhabi, led by Leiah Zhu.

Pursuing her musical talent while keeping with her academic commitments meant a lot of juggling. But Alexandra says her school teachers are instrumental in her development. “I need to plan and study in advance to make time for my auditions and music exams. On an average, I spend three-four hours a day practising on the violin. Over the weekend, this window increases to five-six hours,” she points out.

Her initial fears notwithstanding, Alexandra and her family today cannot thank her school – and Dubai - enough for helping her further her skills.

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A cherished performance for Alexandra as Concertmaster of the Camarata of the NYO. Image Credit: Supplied

“Everyone in the school understood her aspirations and became the championing unit she never had. They knew where she was headed and gave her ongoing opportunities to perform, cheering her on, congratulating, thanking and encouraging her with kind words. Musicians like her need this to handle the kind of stress on the big stage,” says Shoghik.

Needless to say, Alexandra, who has one more year to go in high school, hopes to get into a prestigious music college - possibly in the US - for her higher studies.

“I have big dreams which call for a huge work ethic,” she says, but adds, “My faith thankfully is bigger.”