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Young Violin Player to Take On Peace-Making


Article Contributed By Kristin Kownacky

Confidence exuding, violinist Brenden Zak, age 16 at the time, walked out on to the vast Verizon Hall stage at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. With the bright lights blinding, anticipation almost tangible, Brenden stood before an audience of close to 1,000 people.


With the piece that won him the competition, Brenden performed as the first Junior Peace and Music Ambassador of the Harmony For Peace Foundation at its annual International Peace Day Concert in September.


A few months later, Brenden sat at a coffee shop on a windy day in Center City, Philadelphia, with the same considerations on his mind as any seventeen year old; plans for the summer, college applications and balancing the high and realistic expectations for the next few years.


Yet in the time since the concert, Brenden had the chance to reflect on his role, what it had in store for him in the future and why he auditioned in the first place.


“At the beginning, it was mostly a selfish reason. It was a competition to win, an opportunity to perform at the Verizon Hall. Yet after writing my message of peace, and then actually being a part of the concert, I realized how special these ideas are. So while I started off just as a performer, I began to understand that this is a fundamental part of being a musician; constant learning and sharing,” he said.

After winning the competition, Brenden was a feature performer at the International Peace Day Concert, a grand event in Center City promoting unity, friendship and understanding among nations and cultures through music, held in observation of the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. Performing alongside cross-cultural professional artists, Brenden described a new experience, unique to his past concerts.


“Unlike other performances or concerts where it is about the music, this was more about bringing together people, seeing all different performers and styles and to share. The experience is not easy to capture in words,” he said.


To embrace diversity and celebrate unity, the concert featured special artists cellist Ohad Bar-David, erhu player Jiebing Chen, percussionist Hafez Kotain and violinist Hanna Khoury, who fused their unique cultural techniques and styles into one cohesive piece – symbolic for friendship and understanding among cultures and nations. 


Their cross-cultural performance inspired Brenden to consider his own direction and future in music. He himself incorporated Western fiddle music into his violin piece as a musical experiment.


“To understand other cultures and to develop this understanding into music – it’s what music is all about. Music is a universal language. Everybody speaks it. To be a cross-cultural performer – that would absolutely be something amazing I would like to do,” he said.

In addition to performing on grand stages or venues, Brenden wants to perform to small groups of cultural communities or children, bringing something new into their lives, yet also talking with them and learning about their own experiences. As an established professional musician, he would like to hold classes around the world, listening to and teaching music of all cultures and heritages.


This summer Brenden will be attending the Perlman Music Program in Long Island, NY, an intense seven week camp for “young string players of rare and special talent.” A trip to Iceland with his Temple Music Prep may also be in the works.  


As Harmony For Peace Foundation’s Junior Ambassador, Brenden has been tasked with using these experiences as opportunities to share his own message of peace with his fellow musicians and peers.

“[Peace is] truly understanding someone, getting to know someone’s culture, country and even what they went through growing up … what they like, dislike, what they want out of life,” he said.

Working to become a cross-cultural artist, Brenden can use his talent as a way to make a difference in the world, focusing on individual choices and perspectives.


“I think that music can destroy prejudices and help develop equal opinions of everyone. Music can definitely inspire change.”

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