Sandy Cameron remembers her first visit to the prestigious Kennedy Center for a concert.
She was 12 and already a violin prodigy, steeped in musical knowledge. Still, the formal traditions of a serious concert hall took her off guard.
“In the back of the program they had a list of rules of what not to do in a concert hall,” said Cameron, “and one of them was not bobbing your head to the rhythm of the music.”
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She was surprised her instinct to move with the music was suddenly off limits.
“If that does something to a classical music student, think about what that does to someone who isn’t musical,” said Cameron.
Years later she performed on that very stage, wowing even the most serious classical music critics.
“Central to this suite was a demonic, Paganini-inspired violin solo, played with steamy virtuosity by Sandy Cameron,” gushed a New York Times review after her performance.
In performance Cameron prowls the concert stage, dressed in black leather or elaborate wardrobe and looking something like a cross between a Tim Burton character and Joan Jett.
But instead of shredding on a Gibson Melody Maker, Cameron’s preferred ax is a 284-year-old Pietro Guarnerius violin.
While the classical crossover world is filled with “rock star” violinists, Cameron manages to stand out with audiences and critics for her originality and sheer talent.
For Cameron, it’s all just part of bringing music to as many people as she can.
“I’ve always enjoyed the element of sharing something I’m passionate about with other people, to me that’s fun,” said Cameron in a phone interview with Oil City News.
“I grew up in the traditional classical world, and that is my first love. But I’ve always enjoyed expanding my horizons and trying different things.”
Cameron is the featured guest soloist in this Saturday’s Pops in the Park: A Musical Tribute to John Williams performance at Washington Park by the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra.
The program will feature music by the legendary film composer John Williams, whose themes from blockbusters like “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “E.T.” and “Jurassic Park,” among so many others, have become engrained in popular culture.
“I’m really excited about going there, I love Wyoming,” said Cameron, who called her visit to Yellowstone “one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.”
The 33-year-old rising star took an unusual career path right after college.
“I almost quite literally ran away with the circus,” said Cameron, who got her first full-time gig playing in Cirque du Soleil.
It’s where renowned film composer Danny Elfman discovered her, and tapped her to perform in shows featuring his film scores from the likes of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Batman.”
The composer eventually wrote a serious classical piece specifically for her, a concerto for orchestra and violin called “Eleven Eleven,” which was released this year by Sony Classical.
“It evolved into this part of my life that’s been really fun and challenging, I like doing that and performing traditional classical repertoire. It’s nice to keep things mixed up.”
On Saturday, Cameron will perform the suite from Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” which graphically dramatized events that took place in Nazi occupied Germany during the Holocaust.
John Williams’ deeply moving and haunting score prominently features the violin, which Cameron first prepared for by re-watching the movie.
“I couldn’t even practice properly, I was just bawling,” she said.
“Sometimes music that’s so intense in that way, it can take a moment to step into it and do it without falling apart.”
Performing an intimate piece on an outdoor stage adds its own challenges, particularly when your instrument is a priceless antique on loan from the Stradivarius Society.
“The main thing as a violinist that I worry about is first of all, is it going to rain, because humidity poses a huge issue,” she said.
Even subtle changes in humidity and temperature can send the instrument out of tune, and in a nightmare scenario can cause serious damage.
“The wood of the violin is held together with a special kind of glue, and changes in the environment makes wood expand and contract, and especially when it’s humid the glue can contract and the seams can come apart,” she said.
“Direct sunlight on the instrument is a big no no.”
The challenges are worth it for Cameron, who enjoys exposing classical music to new audiences.
“When I play classical music to people who think they don’t want anything to do with it, they actually find it really exciting. They need to be welcomed into it,” she said.
“I hope during my lifetime we see a change that people are accepting of music for what it is rather than the label attached to it, because there’s so much amazing music to share.”
The Wyoming Symphony Orchestra “Pops in the Park” event in Washington Park is on Saturday, August 24. Gates open at 5 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m. Food and beverage venders will be on site. Tickets and more information can be found at the WSO website.