Carole Olefsky, cellist, joined the HSO in 1971 following an exemplary audition for Music Director Arthur Winograd, who remarked that her performance of the Saint-Saens cello concerto was “one of the best he’d ever heard.” A graduate of the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, Carole was a double major in both Music Education and Performance because “I wanted performance – my parents wanted me to have music education as a ‘back-up’.” We had many more questions for her.
When did you begin to study music?
I became fascinated with violin; my school’s string program began in fourth grade, but I was so strong-willed (even then!) that I was allowed to begin in third grade. I switched to cello in fifth grade. The only cellist in the school graduated, and the teacher asked for someone to fill the vacancy. I thought if I played cello, I could persuade my parents to drive me to and from school since it was too big to carry! (It worked.)
Is there anyone who influenced you?
Absolutely yes – but more than one. My parents came first: they brought me to concerts at a very young age. Yenovk Kavafian (father of world-famous violinists Ani and Ida Kavafian) was my first violin teacher, my first cello teacher and my high school orchestra director. In high school, I played in a quartet with Ani, who (in addition to her performance career) is on faculty at Yale. Our coach was Mischa Mischakoff, Concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony. Growing up in Detroit, we were surrounded by brilliant musicians. I played with the Detroit Youth Orchestra, and my contemporaries included Kim Kashkashian (violist) and Robert Vernon, who was principal violist of Cleveland for many years. In Hartford, Steven Wernick was my true mentor. Orthodontist, violinist and a Renaissance man, he was a huge supporter of the Symphony. He had played with the Hartford Symphony and music was central to his soul. He regularly hosted concerts and HSO fundraisers in his magnificent Bristol mansion, including a performance by Midori. I often played chamber music with him; he constantly encouraged me to be musically curious, and to continue studying. He passed away in 2014, and I miss him still.
What can you tell us about your cello?
It is a magnificent instrument, crafted by the internationally-known maker Kelvin Scott from Knoxville, Tennessee. I met with Kelvin in 2009, he assessed my personal needs, and the cello he built for me was completed in 2010. During the trial period, I brought the cello to New York and to Boston to compare with other instruments, but this was the one that always came out first. My cello was entered into an International Competition in the Fall of 2010, and out of 95 cello entries that year, it won a Silver Medal for tone, and was runner-up for the Gold! So, I am playing on a truly world-class instrument.
You went into performance; did you ever use your music education training?
I did – teaching privately. I’ve always found inspiration in my students’ desire to learn, their enthusiasm and the sheer joy that they derive from playing.
Did you ever work outside of the world of music?
Since the HSO has always been a parttime orchestra, all of us have income from other sources. For many years, I worked in IT (computer technology). I began with Connecticut Mutual, which became Mass Mutual, then moved to Otis Elevator/UTC, then to Aetna and finally to Cigna. After that, I obtained a real estate license and sold condos in Simsbury. But now it’s the music that remains central in my life.
Besides music, what else brings you joy?
Music is always first: my dream is to play the cello well for the rest of my life. But I love many different genres of music: I could listen to jazz, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand all day. I enjoy knitting, being with friends and watching the snow fall. My other passions are fashion and interior design. I could see myself in the fashion world or being an interior designer, had music not grabbed my soul first.
Carole also owns and operates her own music publishing website, www.rarestringmusic.com.