New Market violinist to perform with Maryland Symphony Orchestra

Originally published May 05, 2011

By Lauren LaRocca

News-Post Staff

Photo by Sam Yu

Russell Iceberg, 15, of New Market, practices the violin recently with his teacher, Phyllis Freeman. Russell is slated to perform with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday and May 12 at the Maryland Theater in Hagerstown.

“More bow speed.” “Be nice to it.” “More vibrato.” Russell Iceberg’s teacher shouts from the center of the balcony of Evangelical Reformed Church, while the young violinist plays a few notes, stops, listens and tries again.

“Now you have the speed, but you need to add a little weight.” “More bow.”  “Even more — see how much you can do.”

“It’s like throwing a Frisbee.” “You have to feel that electricity flowing through your hand.”

“A little off the string on that arpeggio.”  “That was nice — OK, that was good that time.”

An hour later, Russell takes a break. “It’s not all about talent — that’s a mythology,” said his instructor, Phyllis Freeman. “These kids work hard.”

Freeman began teaching Iceberg violin lessons when he was 4. Russell, 15, of New Market, will be a guest soloist in the Maryland Symphony Orchestra Youth Concerts on Wednesday and May 12 at the Maryland Theater in Hagerstown. The performances are not open to the public.

Russell is home-schooled, allowing him flexibility to practice three to four hours a day, metronome ticking.

Freeman, principal violist for the MSO and director of the Maryland Talent Education Center in Mount Airy, said she usually doesn’t teach 4-year-olds.

At the school with five faculty members who teach violin, viola and cello, Russell’s first year of lessons was mostly about learning to stay focused. “Russell was very curious, very fascinated, very happy to learn. I remember him bouncing in the room, like, ‘Let’s play violin!’”

Russell smiled. “When I was an infant, I had a kind of fascination with the violin. Mom happened to have an old violin. That violin was kind of like my teddy bear. I carried it around.” “It was as big as he was,” said his mother, Kathleen Iceberg. “He saw the violin and it was like he remembered it. … It was almost like he’d come home.”

While Russell’s parents were getting divorced he was unable to continue with violin lessons. So he took to other instruments. At age 13, he learned guitar, mandolin and flute, and quickly joined in playing with local singer-songwriter Tomy Wright.

His mom sent him back to MDTEC when she could, and he continued his studies after a two-year gap. “It’s something that’s worth the effort,” the soft-spoken Russell said. “It takes 100 times more effort than any other instrument I play, but it’s worth (it).”

He listens to pretty much any music written between 1680 and today.

The MSO, meanwhile, invites a young musician to play with them each year during its youth concerts, which are performed for fourth-graders (public, private and home-schooled) in the quad-state region.

Russell happened to be working on the Mozart piece the MSO was going to perform for the youth concerts this year (it can take about six months to get a piece down), so Freeman thought he’d be a perfect match. Elizabeth Schulze, MSO music director and conductor, invited him to play as the soloist.

“Playing with an orchestra is huge,” Freeman said.

He also plays concerts, usually every month, with the MDTEC, and he still finds time to play acoustic rock with Wright at local coffeehouses.

“If the virtuoso thing doesn’t work out, there’s always the rock ‘n’ roll thing,” Iceberg said.