Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Atwood ’16 MM, Violin Performance

“Getting swept up in the daring and expressive world of Paganini provided distraction and structure, with unforeseen - and welcome - guidance on how to listen afresh in this shifting world.”

Sarah Atwood

As with many musicians this past year, Sarah’s daily life as a professional orchestral musician was put on hold. Sarah knew she needed a long term project to stay in playing shape and better herself as an artist. Taking advantage of the newfound time in her days, Sarah took on a practice project entitled the “Pandemic Paganini Project” (PPP).

Sarah decided to work through all 24 Paganini Caprices, recording each caprice as she learned it then posting it to her YouTube channel. Read this beautiful article by Sarah in The Strad magazine to gain more insight into what Sarah experienced while playing each piece. In The Strad article, Sarah explains:

 “As a student I had learned a handful of the familiar Paganini caprices, ignoring the rest. Filling in the blanks by improving some caprices and studying others anew was appealing. This composition, which encompassed so many perfect microcosms of the art of violin playing, felt reassuringly organized, in contrast to the crumbling of the world. The project changed me both as an artist and as a person, and guided me toward deeper listening. My approach to practicing and to life became clearer. Loosening the constraints which I had always set within my practicing helped illustrate that it was, in fact, also possible to roll with life’s punches. My focus gradually shifted from forcing technical problems into submission, and I began to listen more carefully, while becoming more patient and conscious in daily life.”

Although at first the PPP was simply started to deal with the stress of the pandemic, it ended up inspiring Sarah to create further projects that she never would have contemplated prior to 2020. Next, Sarah plans to learn Salvatore Sciarrino’s Sei Capricci and Pietro Locatelli’s 24 Caprices, ending in a professional recording of a mixture of Locatelli, Paganini, and Sciarrino. The caprices written by all three composers are connected across time, through musical inspiration and direct quotation, and Sarah hopes to provide a unique presentation of this progression of old-to-new Italian solo violin music.

Watch Sarah’s PPP performances on her YouTube channel and read more about her journey at the following links:

The Strad magazine

France Musique


More about Sarah

1) What have you been up to since graduating from NEC?

Since graduating, I have won 6 auditions. Before the pandemic, I was working full-time as Principal Second Violin in both the Boston Lyric Opera and Portland Symphony, playing weekly Bach cantatas with Emmanuel Music, and regularly touring with the Boston Pops.

2) What are some of your favorite memories from your time at NEC?

Performing a solo violin piece by John Heiss in Jordan Hall.

3) Share a story about one of your favorite faculty or studio instructor.

Peter Row was the greatest mentor I have ever had. Although I had always been a strictly classical violinist, Peter took me under his wing and gave me weekly lessons, on his own time. After I graduated, Peter and I formed a trio with a tabla player, and worked together performing Indian ragas up until his untimely death.