In his second season with the NRO, the Canadian violinist and concertmaster is on the fast track

Since learning to play the violin at age 6, William Thain has worked toward a singular goal: to play with ultimate skill and pure abandon.

Now the 26-year-old from Toronto, Ontario, is facing one of his biggest moments on stage, a solo during the National Repertory Orchestra’s concert on June 29, Stern Conducts Tchaikovsky.

Making both his NRO and co-concertmaster debut last summer, Thain unearthed a new set of skills and confidence.

“The NRO really does simulate a professional experience with the rehearsal space and the turnaround of performances. The turnaround is so fast,” he says. “I was really grateful to have had a whole summer of experience in that chair. I would have felt woefully underprepared for what came next without that experience. The concerto opportunity here is incredibly valuable as a young professional. To play a major violin concerto with an orchestra this high-level is a rare opportunity.”

Will Thain

Will Thain. Photo by Elaine Collins

One of Thain’s highlights last season was performing Brahms’ Double Concerto with NRO cellist Clare Choi.

“It was phenomenal, overwhelming. I’ve got to say, though, it’s scary. Last year, I had a partner. This year, it’s just me and I would say the concerto is more challenging. But I am more excited than I am scared,” he says.

The Canadian will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 in G Minor. The piece is familiar and one of Thain’s most beloved of the composer’s work.

“I have always loved Prokofiev’s music. It’s dramatic. It’s full of character. The melodies are so beautiful. I especially love how he creates this contrast between pure, innocent characters and the most dark, brooding, mischievous characters. We see a lot of that in this concerto. The first movement is dark, mysterious, and edgy while the second movement transports us into a dreamy fairytale land.”

In addition to equating a concerto to a story, Thain views each musical movement as part of a dance.

“The first stage of learning a concerto or any piece is learning the choreography of the notes, the physical act of playing,” he says. “The way you play is so dependent on the story you want to tell, and the challenge is to keep your playing under control while producing the huge sound required to play over an entire orchestra. As a soloist, you have much more freedom to move around and be expressive with your stage presence. But the pieces we’re playing are demanding. Thinking about performing from a choreography standpoint helps to reduce unnecessary tension. It’s like yoga in that holding unnecessary tension in your body prevents you from completing the motions with fluidity and efficiency.”

Thain has managed this approach after navigating “crippling stage anxiety” for many years.

“I find on stage when I’m nervous, bringing my attention back to how it physically feels to play really helps,” he says. “I’m focusing on making the violin sing, connecting the bow movement with my breath.”

Thain holds a degree in Violin Performance and Minor in Business Management from McGill University as well as a Master’s Degree in violin performance and a Graduate Certificate in Arts Entrepreneurship and Leadership from the University of Michigan. Following his first summer in Breckenridge, Thain landed a concertmaster position with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, where he was just awarded tenure, and will join the Adrian Symphony as concertmaster starting this Fall. Inspired by his Masters studies with Danielle Belen, he also teaches as a member of the University of Michigan pre-college faculty.

He hopes to continue with this balance of the artform – playing, performing and teaching –as well as reaching toward his goal of unbridled expression.

“It’s hard to single out one most rewarding moment when performing, but I can tell you what they all had in common. I felt completely uninhibited on stage,” he says. “When I feel I’m making unrestrained music and sharing that with the audience, when nerves aren’t in the way and I can just play my heart out, as a performer, that’s the ultimate dream.”

Don’t miss Thain’s solo performance on June 29 when Stern Conducts Tchaikovsky at 6 p.m. at The Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge.

Photo: Will Thain practices with the NRO in June 2024. By Elaine Collins