11-year-old violinist Linda Phan performing with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra in an empty Adler Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

Linda Phan does not consider herself a child prodigy, but the 11-year-old Bettendorf student is the youngest musician to perform as a soloist with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra in recent memory.

Linda studied two years at the Vietnam National Academy of Music before moving to the Quad-Cities in 2019.

Linda – who’s in sixth grade at Riverdale Heights Elementary – won the Grand Prize at the 2019 Quad City Symphony Youth Ensembles Concerto Competition. This past Saturday night, she joined the QCSO for the first movement of Wolfgang A. Mozart’s charming Third Violin Concerto, written when that child prodigy was 19, and you can buy digital access to the concert through March 9.

It was performed, under the baton of QCSO music director Mark Russell Smith at Davenport’s Adler Theatre without an audience.

Even though there was no audience at the Adler, Linda said on Sunday it was still stressful to stand and play with all the seasoned professionals. She only rehearsed with the orchestra for about 90 minutes over two days.

“At first I was nervous, but after a few times playing with them, I got a little more comfortable,” Linda (whose mother is from Vietnam) said. “I thought the orchestra was going to make very loud noises and then I had to try and make louder noises, but after a few times playing with them, I think they covered me up a lot and it was good.”

11-year-old violinist Linda Phan performing with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra in an empty Adler Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

“Playing Mozart is very fun, because the music is fast and playful,” she said. “The Quad City Symphony Orchestra is a very good orchestra. Everybody was very supportive for me. Especially, Maestro Smith, Mr. Ernesto and Miss Sabrina.”

Ernesto Estigarribia is music director for the Quad City Symphony Youth Ensembles, and his wife Sabrina Tabby is Linda’s violin teacher.

Linda performed the 10-minute Mozart movement from memory, which wasn’t a big deal, since she’s played it for two years. Mozart is one of her favorite composers. The Third Violin Concerto (from 1775) was the same piece she played for the December 2019 competition, where she performed with a piano accompanist.

She was to perform the concerto at the annual QCSO/QCSYE Side-by-Side Concert on April 19, 2020, which was canceled due to Covid.

Mozart (who had his first original works published by the time he was 10) was a world-renowned child prodigy, and at the end of his life, he was generally seen as an up-and-coming pianist and opera composer.


“However, in his late teen years, before he migrated to Vienna to seek his fortune, Mozart was principally a violinist, serving as concertmaster in the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, who also employed his father Leopold,” the QCSO program says.

Wolfang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote his 3rd Violin Concerto at 19. His first published works date before he was 10.

At 19, the younger Mozart wrote a series of five violin concertos over the course of nine months, which presumably he premiered himself with the court orchestra in Salzburg. By the time he left Salzburg at age 25, he had moved his focus to performing on the piano.

Linda Phan also specializes in both piano and violin — playing the violin for 6 years now and piano for 5 years. During the two years (September 2017 – April 2019) studying at the Vietnam National Academy of Music, she played as a soloist three times with its orchestra, the Junior Maius Orchestra, and the Sun Symphony Orchestra.

Linda received the second prize at the Chiang Mai Ginastera International Music Festival in Thailand in 2018.

She’s been a member of the Quad City Youth Symphony Orchestra for a year and a half and the Pleasant Valley Elementary Orchestra. In the past, she was selected to play with the Quad Cities Youth String Quartet, the Iowa String Teachers Association (ISTA) Junior Honor Orchestra, and the South Eastern Iowa String Teacher’s Association (SEISTA) Honor Orchestra.

11-year-old violinist Linda Phan performing with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra in an empty Adler Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

In December 2020, she won the second prize in the Intermediate Division of the Federated Music Teachers Association of the Quad Cities (FMTA) 37th Classical Piano Competition. In December 2019, she won the first prize in the Elementary Division of the FMTA Baroque Piano Competition.

Linda won the December 2019 grand prize at the Q-C Symphony Youth Ensembles Concerto Competition.

That same month, Linda was one of two students who won prizes in the Quad City Symphony Youth Ensembles annual Concerto Competition, out of 15 Youth Symphony Orchestra members who auditioned.

“The competition was very challenging, because there were many high schoolers joining the competition,” she said. “However, I joined the competition without any pressure, because I thought I joined for fun.”

In one of the judge’s comments, the form said: “Beautiful, expressive playing,” and “Lovely sound expressive vibrato that adds color to your playing.”

“Usually, if I had to choose, I would choose violin, because I study more violin than piano,” Linda said. “I do enjoy violin more than piano. I enjoy how like the pieces I play on violin, I can make the sound however I want, and usually on the piano, it’s pretty hard for me to make it in different dynamics, and I can’t vibrato on piano.”

For this past December’s piano competition, she played Mozart sonata, a Chopin nocturne, and “Children’s Corner” by Debussy.

“My grandma takes me to study every week. She is a very dedicated person,” Linda, who moved with her family to the Q-C in 2019, said. “She

Linda Phan, 11, has been playing violin for six years and piano for five years.

doesn’t know how to read the music, but she used to write down everything in words and learn by heart all the pieces with me. She also takes me to a lot of concerts, and register for me to perform in monthly mini-concerts with my friends. Even now, I still perform online every month with my Vietnamese friends all over the world.”

Before Covid, her parents took Linda every week to study with Mrs. Almita Vamos, who’s considered one of the top violin teachers in the world. Her students have included Rachel Barton Pine and Jennifer Koh. Over the past year, Linda

Mark Russell Smith conducts the Quad City Symphony at the Adler Theatre.

has had private lessons all online – violin with Sabrina Tabby in the Quad-Cities, and piano with Marian Lee.

She is the youngest student in the 90-member Youth Symphony, for which musicians must audition. She’s been in YSO for a year and a half, which is mostly comprised of high school students. There are no upcoming Youth Orchestra concerts scheduled. At Sunday in-person rehearsals, the students wear masks, are socially distanced and don’t share music stands.

The new QCSO concert (which features composers who were all child prodigies) includes three youthful works. It opens with Gioachino Rossini’s elegant Sonata No. 1 for String Orchestra, written when the famous opera composer was just 12.

The program is capped with Felix Mendelssohn’s musical exploration of Italy’s culture and countryside in his joyful and energetic “Italian” Symphony, which premiered when the composer was 24.

Digital access to the concert is $40 per household, available through March 9, via the QCSO’s Uscreen Channel.

You can listen to “Concert Conversations” about the program with Mark Russell Smith and Kai Swanson, and purchase tickets at https://qcso.org/event/masterworks-iv-the-italian-symphony/. You can also buy tickets by calling 563-322-7276.


Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.