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Violin virtuoso Joseph Genualdi

genualdiHis mother played piano, his father the bass — yet Joseph Genualdi always knew he’d blaze his own trail as a violinist. The incendiary moment dates to age 5, when his parents took him to one of his first concerts. The artists, repertoire and location escape him. Yet Genualdi (who paternal family hails from Altavilla Milicia, Sicily) remembers how the violinist left an imprint that, half a century later, still hasn’t faded.

“After the concert I said to my parents, ‘I want to play violin, I want to play violin,'” recalls Genualdi, now 59 and a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “I was very lucky. I never really went through any thought process over what I’d do what my life. I always knew I would play violin. The only confusion was over why I couldn’t be a New York Yankee, too.”

As musicians go, Genualdi certainly has major league slugger credentials. Besides his collegiate faculty post, the Clinton, Iowa native is also a founding member of the Chicago Chamber Musicians, which dates to 1986. Genualdi is still active with the group, and will return to Chicago to perform with the CCM at Our Lady of Pompeii on May 19 as part of the “Sounds and Spaces” series. (Concertgoers will tour the space in conjunction with the concert, and meet the musicians at a reception.)

Genualdi’s also had quite the recording career, having appeared on works released by Music Master, Pickwick, EMI-Angel, Sony Classics, CRI, Summit, Albany, Naxos, and Cedille. His recording with the Muir Quartet and Jean-Phillipe Collard received the Prix du Disque.

Yet in conversation, Genualdi sounds as humble, soft-spoken and full of wonder in assessing his career. Not that he has to be: Genualdi started honing his talent at age 11, with Broadus Erle at Yale University. By 14 he was at The North Carolina School of the Arts, studying with Vartan Manoogian.

“I always try to learn from my recordings,” he says. “When I listen to something, at first my reaction is usually that I can’t stand it, or want to pick it apart. I hear every flaw and it makes me crazy. It’s painful. But over time, I can listen to it and more clearly grasp the big picture.”

Genualdi also strikes a thoughtful balance between making sure his students learn proper technique while exuding ample passion.

“It’s a never-ending quandary to get it right,” he says. “Kids vary tremendously but I don’t ever accept the idea that they can’t play with feeling; they have to play with feeling, and they’re going to hear it if they don’t. But I try not to talk about it as much as bring it out. I play with them, I play for them and sometimes I even shed a tear. It’s an emotional experience and not just an intellectual exercise. That’s what we’re here for.”

Catch Joseph Genualdi with the Chicago Chamber Musicians, 4 p.m. Sunday, May 19 at The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, 1224 W Lexington St., Chicago. Tickets are $60; visit chicagochambermusic.org or call 312-225-5226. For more information on Genualdi, visit josephgenualdi.com.

About Lou Carlozo

Lou Carlozo is award-winning journalist who spent 20 years reporting for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. He began writing for Fra Noi in 2007, and claims maternal and paternal southern Italian lineage. The monthly Lou&A columnist and a music reviewer/writer, his work has appeared in Reuters, Aol, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and news outlets around the world. In 1993, he was a Pulitzer Prize team-reporting finalist for his contributions to the Tribune’s “Killing Our Children” series. He resides in Chicago with his wife of 21 years, a hospital chaplain, and their teenage son and daughter.