Young violinist Rosie Weiss

Rosie Weiss, 14, performs with the Billings Symphony Orchestra and recently won the MASO competition in Bozeman. She will be a featured soloist Feb. 25 with the Great Falls Symphony.

Rosie Weiss has been playing the violin so long, she doesn't remember a time when she didn't play.

Now 14, Weiss is on her 10th violin. Over the last year, she finally grew tall enough to perform on a full-size violin after working her way up from her humble beginnings at age 3 when she practiced by holding a cigar box under her chin. Her fingers are still delicate and she stands just over 5 feet tall, but there is no missing the unflappable ease Weiss exudes as she balances her violin under her chin and drives her bow home.

Janny Kirk, founder of the Billings Youth Orchestra and Celtic group the Ceilidh Fiddlers, used to call Weiss the “cute factor” because she was just 4 years old when she joined the Celtic group.

Music fans might remember seeing Weiss play a solo at age 9 before a crowd of 10,000 at a Billings Symphony in the Park concert. All that exposure to performing live has helped turn Weiss into a young woman who appears unfazed by the size of the crowd or the complexity of a composition.

She became an intern violinist with the Billings Symphony Orchestra at age 12, and last month she won the junior division of the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras' Young Artists Competition. As the winner of MASO, she is now a sought-after soloist with Montana's professional symphony orchestras. On Feb. 25, she will solo with the Great Falls Symphony Orchestra, and in October, she will perform as a soloist with the Billings Symphony Orchestra. She has also gotten an offer to perform with the Glacier Orchestra in Kalispell.

Weiss is a thoughtful teenager who clearly relishes performing. When she starts to play, she grows a foot and her music is so precise, it's like she's already a pro.

One of her first teachers, Vikki Payne, said she noticed even in Weiss's earliest years of training that she was dedicated to music.

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“She's phenomenal,” Payne said. “The way she interprets the music is just incredible.”

Weiss now studies under Randy Tracy, conductor of the Billings Youth Orchestra.

Weiss said she spends from two to four hours a day practicing violin, and since she picked up piano six or seven years ago, she puts in another hour or two a day. But beyond practice, Weiss said she works on interpreting the work and making sure her performance is musical. But there's one other goal that Weiss strives for.

“Technically, you have to be good and get a good sense of how the composer meant it to sound. But, you also have to play it like the audience wants to hear it,” Weiss said.

The piece she mastered for the competition, Mark O'Connor's “Strings & Threads Suite,” traces the roots of American music from its European beginnings to gospel, blues and jazz. Weiss nails the Irish jigs in the early movements, obviously a comfortable spot for the teenager since she has traveled to Scotland and Ireland to perform with the Ceilidh Fiddlers, and has twice won the Montana state championships in Texas style fiddling.

But there is a soulfulness in the bluesy movements that belie Weiss's small stature. In the competitive world of string soloists, Weiss seems like one who won't back down. She's unflappable, unstoppable, and now a headline act.

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Contact Jaci Webb at 657-1359 or jwebb@billingsgazette.com