When Sarah Switzer ’19 was applying to colleges, she was not sure if a career in music was a viable option. But with the help and encouragement of her musician parents, Switzer realized she could pursue music performance at a professional level.

“Both of my parents are also musicians — and I didn’t ever really think that music was something that I could pursue professionally until I was applying for colleges,” Switzer said. “That was the first time my parents very wholeheartedly supported me [in pursuing music professionally].”

When she arrived at Yale, Switzer joined the Yale Symphony Orchestra, Yale’s largest orchestra and one of the most premier undergraduate symphonies in the nation. Switzer started performing as a violinist her first year, but switched to viola her sophomore year, earning the position of principal in just her second year.

“After being in the viola section throughout high school, I was like ‘No, I want to play the violin again,’” Switzer said. “Then I switched to the viola section sophomore year and was sitting principal for most of that and since then, which has been really great because all the violists are so nice.”

This year marks Switzer’s fourth year in the orchestra. As the winner of the 2018 William Waite Concerto Competition, she will perform 20th-century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto at the YSO’s season opener on Oct. 13 in Woolsey Hall.

For the first time in over a decade, YSO Director Toshiyuki Shimada, who is on leave for the 2018–19 academic year, will not conduct the orchestra. William Boughton, conductor and music director of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra since 2007 will temporarily replace Shimada as a YSO interim conductor. Switzer said that although Shimada ran more light-hearted rehearsals, she predicts that the orchestra will perform better this year.

“So far this year we have been working a lot harder,” Switzer said. “So I think that the end product will be a lot better.”

Brian Isaacs ’22 works with Switzer as sub-principal in the YSO’s viola section. He said that Switzer has a very important presence in the YSO, both as a leader and a performer.

“Working with Sarah in YSO is a privilege for me. She’s a compassionate section leader who really knows what she’s doing,” Isaacs said. “In terms of helping other YSO members improve their craft, she is definitely an inspiration to those around her.”

At Yale, Switzer is also part of an undergraduate chamber music course, which is organized and taught by Yale School of Music professor Wendy Sharp ’82. Undergraduates in Sharp’s chamber music course take a yearlong sequence of classes in which they rehearse and perform an entire piece of chamber music every semester.

Sharp, who is also Switzer’s viola and violin teacher, said that Switzer has the technical ability and artistry to achieve great success.

“She knows both how to shine in the spotlight and to be a sensitive, supportive colleague,” Sharp said. “Sarah learns music incredibly quickly and is a wonderful performer who can turn on a dime and both dazzle and move the audience.”

This past summer, Switzer was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, the longtime summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Switzer was one of over a hundred fellows who all worked together through the summer season, occasionally getting to work with professional musicians in the Boston Symphony. Switzer said that the opportunity to spend the summer at Tanglewood was an interesting peek into the life of a professional musician.

“It was crazy. It was very interesting to see the dynamics within a [professional] orchestra,” Switzer said. “It is a very different vibe when it is a bunch of adults, and this is their day job.”

A senior in Davenport College, Switzer is currently organizing her plans for her musical career post-graduation. She said that her time at Yale, playing in chamber music, participating in the YSO and studying with Sharp, has helped her work towards her future professional aspirations.

“Right now, the future goal is to apply to graduate school for music. So hopefully someday I will be able to pursue music professionally, whether that is as a chamber musician or as a member of an orchestra,” Switzer said.

Switzer studies art history at Yale.

Nick Tabio | nick.tabio@yale.edu