A prodigy heads to Juilliard

Ani Bukujian wasn’t born holding a violin, but it wasn’t long thereafter that one became glued to her chin.

When she was 2, Bukujian picked up a toy instrument, stood in front of the television and proceeded to imitate the fingering and body movements of the professionals she saw on the screen. At 3, she abruptly stopped a practice session and announced that her instrument — she was training on the real thing by that point — was out of tune.

And once, upon arriving at a concert, she opened her case and discovered three popped strings and a damaged bridge on her violin — a disaster that sent the adults at the scene into a panic. But Bukujian pulled a Niccolò Paganini.

“She played on one string, and she played perfectly,” said her mother, Gayane Burnazyan, herself a professional musician. “Our audience was amazed and speechless. I was amazed myself.”

Now, 16 years and thousands of hours of practice have paid off. Bukujian, 18, a senior at Glendale High School, has fulfilled a life-long dream, earning a spot at the Juilliard School, hallowed ground for the world’s elite instrumentalists. She starts in August.

On Thursday, she performed a solo during her final concert with the Glendale High School orchestra. It was the conclusion to a four-year stint as concertmistress, a title reserved for the leader of the first violin section.

Amy Rangel, director of instrumental music at Glendale High School, described Bukujian as a once-in-a-lifetime student, the perfect combination of talent and hard work.

“You wouldn’t know that she is such a monster on the violin because she is almost a little bit timid and shy as far as her personality,” Rangel said. “But when she picks up that violin, it is almost like fire and magic.”

During her freshman year, Bukujian shared the title of concert mistress with an older student, Rangel said, but then held the position alone for the subsequent three years.

“She earns respect,” Rangel said. “Sometimes when you have a super-talented student, there can be jealousy or animosity. But because she is such a kindhearted person, the students listen to her.”

Bukujian’s success has nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with hard work, Rangel said. She began studying the violin at 3 under the tutelage of her father, also a violinist. From the start, training sessions were intense, often lasting eight hours.

“I actually thank him for that because if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here right now,” Bukujian said. “My parents, especially my dad, have been there from the very start. I don’t regret one single time he put me in the practice room and made me practice.”

She entered elite contests, including the American String Teachers Assn. solo competition. She performed with the Viva Vivaldi all-girls orchestra in Washington D.C., and with the Bakersfield Symphony.

“It is exhilarating, it is passionate, it is a whole different world,” Bukujian said of playing the violin. “I go into that world, I stay in that world and once the music is gone, I come back into the real world.”

In the fall, she began the application process for Juilliard, sending in a recording and then traveling to New York for a 15-minute audition in front of eight members of the violin faculty.

“I actually stood in the wrong spot the first time because I was very nervous,” Bukujian said. “But they told me to move next to the piano, and I played and I gave my best to them.”

Notice of her acceptance came in April via email. It was a dream come true for the entire family.

“[My mom] started calling all our relatives and all our friends and telling everybody,” Bukujian said. “She was so proud, my dad too.”

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