Varsity Virtuoso

Like many college seniors come springtime, Princeton politics major David Aaron Carpenter is feeling relieved. He’s just put the finishing touches on his thesis, and he’s lined up a summer gig. But the 22-year-old Great Neck, New York, native is hardly headed for an internship.

Culture » Varsity Virtuoso

Varsity Virtuoso
David Aaron Carpenter at Princeton Stadium.

Varsity Virtuoso

Like many college seniors come springtime, Princeton politics major David Aaron Carpenter is feeling relieved. He’s just put the finishing touches on his thesis, and he’s lined up a summer gig. But the 22-year-old Great Neck, New York, native is hardly headed for an internship.

Like many college seniors come springtime, Princeton politics major David Aaron Carpenter is feeling relieved. He’s just put the finishing touches on his thesis, and he’s lined up a summer gig. But the 22-year-old Great Neck, New York, native is hardly headed for an internship.

Instead, he’s about to launch a full-time career as a solo violist, a largely uncharted path in the world of classical music. Already he has balanced debuts at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall (“an extraordinary program,” according to The New York Times) with term papers and classes—not to mention daily four-hour practice sessions. In June, one week after graduation, he’ll stand in for virtuoso Maxim Vengerov when he headlines with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland.

Most solo viola works “are never performed because not a lot of soloists can play them,” says Carpenter, who has nevertheless mastered the demanding oeuvre.

Carpenter, who favors Roberto Cavalli suits for performances, took up the violin at age six but switched to the viola at 12, when his older brother and sister needed the richer-sounding instrument to accompany their violins. After training at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, he made his professional debut with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra at 19. Last June he landed a spot in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, for which he’s been paired with maestro, violinist and violist Pinchas Zukerman. He recently signed with Columbia Artists and casually mentions that he might play a Stradivarius viola (one of about a dozen in the world) for an upcoming project.

In Lucerne he will perform Benjamin Yusupov’s “Viola Tango Rock Concerto,” a 46-minute piece that requires him to play both the viola and the electric violin as well as dance the tango. Says Carpenter, “I told my dancing partner, ‘Maybe not a lot of lifts!’”