Father and son violinists find harmony in love of classical music

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 27, 2018

 Father-son musicians Adam and Joachim Stepniewski will perform during a  Grosse Pointe Symphony Orchestra concert at 3 p.m. March 4 at Our Lady Star  of the Sea Church in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Father-son musicians Adam and Joachim Stepniewski will perform during a Grosse Pointe Symphony Orchestra concert at 3 p.m. March 4 at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Provided photos

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Dads teach their children all sorts of skills. Maybe it’s how to ride a bike, throw a baseball or make breakfast. For Joachim Stepniewski, of Ann Arbor, it was how to play the violin.

Joachim and his dad, Adam Stepniewski, of Ann Arbor, are both professional musicians who’ll be performing during a Grosse Pointe Symphony Orchestra concert at 3 p.m. March 4 at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Grosse Pointe Woods. The father-son duo will play the Mozart Concertone, a concerto for two violins. Our Lady Star of the Sea organist Matthew Jakubisin will join the GPSO for the Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3, the “Organ Symphony.” The concert will open with Fanfare for Brass by Bill Lucas, a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra trumpet section.

“He started (to learn violin) when he was 4 — exactly my age when I started,” said Adam Stepniewski, who served as his son’s first music teacher.

The elder Stepniewski also came from a musical background. His father was a French horn player, his sister was a pianist, and his brother was a pianist and conductor.

“I was following in my father’s footprints,” Adam Stepniewski said of taking up music at a young age.

Adam Stepniewski, the acting principal violinist of the DSO, has been with the DSO since 1991. A native of Poland and a graduate of the acclaimed F. Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, he served as the fourth concertmaster with Radio Symphony Orchestra of Copenhagen, and the assistant concertmaster with the National Philharmonic in Warsaw before joining the DSO. He has also recorded and played with the Polish Chamber Orchestra and the Sinfonia Varsovia, under the direction of conductors such as Mstistlav Rostropovich, Yehudi Menhuin and Hans Graf.

An only child, Joachim Stepniewski, who turns 30 in April, was born in Warsaw and moved to the United States with his parents when he was 3; his mother is an interior designer. He received a bachelor of music degree in violin performance from the University of Michigan and studied with Olga Kaler while pursuing his master’s degree from the DePaul University School of Music. During his time at DePaul, he was a member of the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Chicago.

“I grew (up) seeing what goes on behind the scenes in an orchestra, how musicians work together toward a common goal,” Joachim Stepniewski said in an email interview from Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I always knew how much hard work goes into each piece of music, but it never turned me away from it. I grew to really love playing music partly because of being exposed to that world from an early age, my father’s influence and guidance, and my high school orchestra director, Chris Mark, and his never-ending love for music.”

From his father, he gained more than just a lifelong appreciation of music.

“It’s a bit of a cliché maybe, but it doesn’t make (it) any less true: My father helped me how to figure out what is in between the notes,” Joachim Stepniewski said. “Anyone can play the notes on the page, but not everyone can truly play the music. That’s far more difficult to figure out.”

Adam Stepniewski said he and his son have performed together many times over the years, and it’s something they both look forward to doing.

“Always it is special when I’m playing with my son, and probably for him as well,” he said.

His son agreed.

“Playing with my father is always a pleasure and a challenge,” Joachim Stepniewski said. “We have some typical father versus son bumps in the road when we work together, but in the end, he is one of the best and easiest people to play with onstage.”

Joachim Stepniewski is currently freelancing with orchestras in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, including the DSO, the Toledo Symphony and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. He’s also auditioning for a tenured spot with orchestras around the country and across the globe.

Adam Stepniewski knows that not everyone grows up with classical music playing at home, but he doesn’t want newcomers to feel intimidated. He said audiences come to classical music at all ages, and he hopes people will give it a listen. The GPSO concert is an opportunity for new audiences to be introduced to this music, and the experience could change their lives.

“Classical music is so beautiful. … It doesn’t matter the age — they have to listen, and they will fall in love for sure,” Adam Stepniewski said.

He said professional musicians are like professional athletes: They are constantly training and working on honing their skills.

“People need to know how much work (goes) into making this music,” said Adam Stepniewski, who rehearses every day. “This is endless improvement throughout your whole life.”

Our Lady Star of the Sea Church is located at 467 Fairford Road in Grosse Pointe Woods, on the Grosse Pointe Shores border. Admission to the concert costs $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and is free for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Tickets can be purchased online at www.gpsymphony.org or at the door.