Life by the strings

Colonie Central grad and cellist inducted into school's Hall of Fame

Kenneth Olsen (right) performs with Yo Yo Ma at the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago in May.

Kenneth Olsen (right) performs with Yo Yo Ma at the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago in May. Submitted photo

— After one year at Julliard, cellist Kenneth Olsen decided studying in one of the world’s most exclusive music programs might not be his ticket to success. So he became nomadic.

At the start of the summer he moved to Chicago to participate in a young musicians’ professional studies program. About a week before the program began, he heard about a job opening for a cellist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

After the initial audition, he became the only person to advance to the final round, yet didn’t get the position.

“I just didn’t play as well as I could have, which is just the case with these things. Auditions are a very funny thing. You can be as prepared as possible, but on the day of the audition, so much comes down to luck and what happens in that moment,” said Olsen, a 1999 Colonie Central High School alumnus.

Although he didn’t get the position, the judges were impressed and asked him to substitute in the cello section that summer. He became well acquainted with the symphony and its players, enjoying the work. Five months later, auditions started up again for the same job. Olsen advanced to the finals once more, and with better luck this time, secured the spot.

“I’ll never forget. (The director) called me in his office. I hadn’t even been told I had won. He said, ‘So, you’re not in school?’ and I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘You don’t have another job?’ and I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at rehearsal.’ I literally started the day after,” Olsen said. “It was kind of a whirlwind. I was only 24.”

Today, Olsen has been the assistant principal cellist for the symphony for the past eight years. Because of his accomplishments, Olsen is joining two other alumni to be inducted in the Colonie Central High School Hall of Fame this year.

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