by Len Lear
Elivi Varga, 43, who lives on the border between Roxborough and Manayunk, earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in flute performance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007, a Master of Music from Illinois State University in 2004 and a post-graduate certificate from the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, in 1998, where she lived for five years after graduating with honors in music from Goucher College in Baltimore.
She has performed recitals in the U.S. at such venues as the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, and at the Levine School of Music in Washington, DC, and she regularly tours Sweden. She has performed with numerous symphony orchestras as well as Jenkintown Music Theater and the Settlement Music School Contemporary Players.
She has taught flute at Settlement Music School locally, the Philadelphia Art and Music School, major universities and other venues. And she produced a stunning album in 2012, “Silver Tunes: Music for Flute & Organ,” on the Sterling Records label.
Elivi was born in New Haven, CT, to a Swedish mother and Hungarian father who had moved to the U.S. when her father got a job at Yale University. Elivi is the only person in her family who was born in the U.S. Her parents have since returned to their respective countries, and Elivi visits them regularly.
Elivi’s mother is a pianist, and her maternal grandparents were also musicians. “I grew up with music in the house,” said the flutist, “and becoming a musician myself was natural. I started with violin when I was four years old, using the Suzuki method. I also played recorder and then studied piano with my mother for several years.
“In fifth grade or so, my friend across the street started playing flute, and I fell in love with the instrument then. I loved the sound, the shininess and its portability. I wasn’t able to convince my mom until a year later that I REALLY wanted to play the flute. When we were about to move to Bethesda, MD, and the piano was put in storage to prepare for the move, my mom decided that was a perfect time for me to take up the flute.”
Elivi took lessons at a community music school in New Haven and later began doing research on women composers in the early 1990s as an undergraduate at Goucher College. She was dismayed to see how little programming of music by women there was in the world’s major concert halls.
“It’s still not nearly enough,” she said, “but there’s definitely been an improvement over the past few decades. I always try to program music by women in my recitals because that’s the only way we will eventually get to the goal of having music equally represented.”
While doing doctoral work at the University of Illinois, Elivi also interviewed several composers in Sweden, “and it was refreshing to find out that there is an excellent supportive network to encourage and finance composers in Sweden, no matter their gender.”
Elivi met her husband-to-be, novelist Andrew Ervin, at Goucher College, after which they lived in Budapest, Hungary, for five years. Then they chose to live in Northwest Philly because they already had friends and family here. “What an amazing treasure we have in Philly with that Wissahickon Park!” she said.
What are the main differences between living in Hungary and in Philadelphia? “We were in Hungary in the mid- to late-‘90s, which was a time of major change in Eastern Europe. The most vivid description I can give is of the food stores. At first, around 1995, the selection was very limited for what kinds of things you could buy in the markets. The produce was amazing, but packaged goods were limited. Then, after a few years, more and more choices became available but at an increased cost. The question, of course, is, do you want fewer choices at a cheaper price, or more choices for more money?”
Elivi, who says her ultimate musical hero is Johann S. Bach (“I never tire of listening to and playing his music”), has a brother in Silver Spring, MD, and another brother in Budapest. She Skypes and Facetimes with her family regularly.
When asked about her ultimate goal as a musician, Elivi replied, “There have been performances where I actually give myself goosebumps because of the music. I strive to achieve a sound and a sense of musicality that goes beyond what I’m feeling and reach my audiences. I want them to have goosebumps too!”
Elivi is in two newly-formed ensembles, The Philadelphia Flute Quartet and the Lyra Ensemble. The former will perform at First United Church in Phoenixville on Oct. 20, and at Calliope Music Store in Ardmore on Nov. 6. She will also perform solo recitals this fall with renowned pianist Rollin Wilber.
For more information and to hear Elivi playing several beautiful pieces, visit www.elivi.com