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

— “When I went to Tanglewood, I started coming into my own as a cellist a little bit. That was when I met people all over the country and internationally, being around kids my age that felt as passionately about music as I did gave me a great perspective,” Olsen said. “It also introduced me to lifelong friends that I’m still friends with today.”

Things continued to escalate and at only 17, he spent nine weeks at the Aspen Music Festival and won a competition there. Miraculously, Olsen was able to stay an A student while spending almost every weekend performing with different orchestras or at festivals.

“I definitely prioritized my music stuff, but I took pride in getting good grades,” Olsen said. “I actually missed my high school graduation ceremony because I was on tour with the youth orchestra in Cuba … which was amazing.”

While a student at Colonie Central High School, Olsen taught himself the violin to challenge himself while playing in the school’s orchestra.

Even with everything he had accomplished up until that point, Olsen said he credits Richard Aaron, a professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music, for his success. Aaron taught Olsen in Cleveland, where he received his bachelor’s degree.

“I really don’t think I’d be here in Chicago today if it weren’t for him. He’s still the most sought after cello teacher in the country,” Olsen said. “He completely shaped me as a cellist.”

Post-Cleveland, Olsen tried Julliard for a year but said he was “ready to be an adult” and independent, away from a university. From there, he found his place in the Chicago Symphony.

While working in Chicago, Olsen still finds time to broaden his musical horizon, including being a founding member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra and a member of the Civitas Ensemble. He has also worked on many events with the symphony with children.

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