Violinist and composer brings music to the mountains

Thursday , July 24, 2014 - 12:00 PM

Standard-Examiner staff

Michelle Ross found love early in life. She recalls sitting in a kindergarten class at a public elementary school in Los Angeles when it happened. She picked up a violin and held it in her hands for the first time at age 5. 

“As soon as I held it in my hands, that was kind of it for me,” Ross said, sipping tea on the porch of the Wolf Creek Resort office. She smiled and looked to the mountains.

She says she found music in a lucky way, but what she didn’t know was how much it would shape her life.

The pre-eminent concerto violinist and composer, who is now based out of New York City, didn't have a background in music. In fact, neither of her parents are musicians. But when her new principal introduced her to a music program, she found her soul mate: the violin.

“It just was part of me, and it always felt like the right thing to be doing, to be playing it. I never doubted the love I had for it, and I’m extremely lucky to have found it at a young age.”

Ross, along with her hand-picked trio of musicians, will perform at Music in the Mountains, a free concert at Timberline Lodge at Powder Mountain on Saturday, July 26. A barbecue and beer garden will begin at 2 p.m., followed by the performance by the quartet starring Ross at 5 p.m.

Music at a young age

Moving to New York City at age 10 didn’t intimidate Ross. It gave her the opportunity to study at Juilliard with the “greatest teachers in the world.” Ross was taken under the wings of paramount violinists Itzhak Perlman and Dorothy DeLay when she was 12 years old.

“It was a blessing to be nurtured by such a great artist, and music for me was always just a gift and a way to speak,” Ross said. “At a young age, I had a voice and it was the greatest thing in the world, and it still is.”

Ross said that as she gets older, she becomes almost overwhelmed by the power of music and its ability to connect people. A.J. Nilles, the viola player who has played with Ross in Eden before, met Ross when she was 14 years old at a music festival.

“I really can’t think of my life without the violin. It’s like saying, ‘When did you realize you had hair on your head?’ — that’s basically how I think about it,” Ross laughed. “When I was younger, it was just like breathing, it was so normal, but not in a way that you ever take for granted.”

When she started composing her own pieces at 14, Ross knew she was dedicating her life to not only the violin, but to music itself.

“That was really a pinnacle moment as well, realizing that in a way, this is the purpose of my life and I have something to say and I’m meant to be on this beautiful, scary, difficult journey of trying to figure out how to say it and use these tools to be able to express myself, and that was an extremely amazing revelation when I started writing music.”

Universal language

While love is arguably the universal language, Ross would debate that music reaches just as deeply — music is love to her.

She said classical music, and especially Beethoven, “reaches us in so many ways,” and every sense is used to experience the music.

“It’s so deep that the older you get and the more times you hear it, you discover more,” she said of Beethoven. “It’s like climbing a mountain that keeps growing. Every time you reach a new peak, it’s your plateau and you see even more.

“The music actually gets more interesting, more mystifying and more exciting, which is so cool. Plus there is so much more to learn,” she said, the excitement showing on her face.

After she started composing, she started improvising, which led to numerous collaborations between Ross and other notable artists, and not just musicians. She wrote a piece for a visual artist as well as a dance group and an actor.

“Being able to collaborate with different art forms is super inspiring, and you’ll never know who you’ll meet playing violin,” she said. “I’ve played in a rock band, you know, I’ve really done everything. At the end of the day, music in its purest sense says it all.”

Music in the Mountains

The musicians accompanying Ross on Saturday are cellist Michael Haas, from Momenta Quartet, and Catherine Gregory on the flute. Gabriela Martinez, a solo pianist as well as chamber musician, joins the ranks.

But the big news is the grand piano making its way up the mountain for the special engagement. The concert, set outside amongst the wildflowers, will provide the audience as well as the musicians with built-in ambience and inspiration.

Chamber music was played in its heyday much like it is now; musicians invite over a few friends and play together. To Ross, chamber music is like the soul.

“It’s so accessible and it’s about sharing, it’s about making connections,” she said. “The spirit of it is so joyous and so inviting that I think it’s a very wonderful thing to bring into any community.”

This is the first of the Music in the Mountains concert series. More events are planned, although no other dates are official just yet.

To Ross, sharing chamber music at Powder Mountain is also about dreaming. She said it was like heaven being able to work in the Ogden Valley for the two weeks she has spent rehearsing and performing.

“The spirit of being able to inspire one another and being able to dream and dream about this, and to just be here for two weeks playing great music and being able to play with unbelievable musicians is amazing,” Ross said, expressing her gratitude to Summit and Powder Mountain for starting the series.

“It’s going to recharge me and all of us in ways that I won’t even be able to tell right now.”

Contact reporter Raychel Johnson at 801-625-4279 or Follow her on Twitter @raychelNEWS.


  • WHAT: Michelle Ross
  • WHEN: Barbecue at 2 p.m., music at 5 p.m. July 26
  • WHERE: Timberline Lodge, Powder Mountain, State Road 158, 8000 N. 5100 East, Eden

Sign up for e-mail news updates.