Stevenson High School grad plays viola to national audience
Devon Naftzger, an 18-year-old graduate of Stevenson High School, plays her viola in June at The Palace Theater in Grapevine, Texas. The concer was recently broadcast nationwide on National Public Radio. | Photo courtesy From The Top
LINCOLSHIRE — The classical sounds of Devon Naftzger on her viola recently made their way to a national audience.
Naftzger, an 18-year-old Stevenson High School graduate, has performed on Chicago television and radio several times, including some of the region’s most prestigious stages. But on Sept. 30, the freshman at Princeton University listened to herself in her dormitory as National Public Radio broadcast a concert she played in June.
Naftzger grew up listening to NPR’s Sunday night music program, From the Top. Becoming a performer on the show was a dream come true, she said.
“It was a surreal moment, when I realized that I was actually the one, in that moment,” Naftzger said.
It may also represent the peak of her music career, because she has a number of other interests lined up as possible career paths.
“I don’t want to do music, even though it’s been my whole life,” the Lincolnshire native said. “I’m all over the board in terms of my interests, but I like it that way.
“We dissected a sheep brain yesterday,” Naftzger said of her freshman-level neuroscience class at Princeton.
Naftzger performed June 27 at The Palace Theater in Grapevine, Texas, for an audience that included the highest-ranking man in the military and his wife. The concert was recorded by From the Top, a production company that captures and replays classical music events on NPR. Naftzger’s national episode aired Sept. 30. The program was scheduled to run locally on WWFM 89.1 at 11 a.m. Oct. 6.
On Sept. 30 she listened from the common area of her dormitory, where her classmates threw her a listening party.
“I’m forced to listen to myself on the radio,” she said, trying to play her achievement down.
But she did call the experience performing in Texas one of the best weekends of her life.
Naftzger was one of several young musicians — all children of current or former armed forces personnel — whom the Military Child Education Coalition selected to play a concert at its annual conference. The audience included Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the pianist was the host of From the Top, Christopher O’Riley.
When she was eight years old, Naftzger saw O’Riley play at a From the Top taping at Ravinia Festival. She said she had dreamed since then of becoming one of the show’s performers.
“I’ve always wanted to play with him, because he’s really talented,” she said.
She got the chance when one of her teachers heard that From the Top would be recording a show with veterans’ children. Naftzger’s father, Steven, served in the Air Force for 11 years as a fighter pilot trainer. She applied, and felt “ecstatic” when she received the phone call that she had been selected.
“We knew about Devon for some time,” said Tom Vignieri, From the Top’s music producer. “She’s somebody that came onto our radar because she was playing at a high level for a long time.”
In Texas, Naftzger had one song to play in the concert: “Praeludium and Allegro” by mid-1900s composer and violinist Fritz Kreisler.
Vignieri said Kreisler intended his song only for virtuosos — extremely talented violin players. Vignieri added that to play the song on the viola, a stringed instrument with a lower, darker sound, would be an even greater challenge.
“Only the best young musicians can play it well,” and he said Naftzger did.
Later in the broadcast, pianist and host O’Riley interviewed Naftzger, and asked her why she chose Princeton over the Juilliard School, the famous music program in New York City. Naftzger replied that there are too many other interesting options out there to get tied into performing just yet.
“I can always go to grad school, if this is a path I want to follow,” she said.
But she reported that her first few weeks at Princeton — where she plays in the school orchestra — has gone well, and that neuroscience and law were catching her attention.
Regardless of what her career ends up being, though, Naftzger said her appearance on NPR would likely prove to be one of the high moments.
“It’s been something I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” she said. “Ever since I heard From the Top for the first time, I decided I wanted to be on it.”