Before anything else, let’s clear up a common misconception. Eighteen-year-old violinist-composer-singer Nick Bentz of West Ashley didn’t always know that he was put on this planet to make music. He didn’t actually start playing violin until age 6, and he says it took years for him to discover the passion that now consumes his life. “Everybody starts off slow,” Bentz said on the phone from Colorado, where he is wrapping up his fifth summer as a student at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival. “It really wasn’t until second or third grade that things really started to click for me.”
Public school prodigy. Reminded that second or third grade isn’t exactly late-bloomer territory from a middle-aged perspective, Bentz offers this: “I almost quit in kindergarten because I couldn’t go to recess. But I’ve developed a real love for it ever since.” That’s something of an understatement. The rising senior at the Charleston School of the Arts estimates that he spends about 10 hours a day practicing, performing, or writing music. Asked whether he finds time to have much of a teenage life beyond that demanding schedule, Bentz concedes that it’s difficult, but says he finds time. His non-musical outlets? Captain of the SOA Academic Bowl Team and president of the school chapter of the National Honors Society. Oh, and he plays with the College of Charleston orchestra. But that’s usually only a couple of rehearsals a week.
Musical multitasking. Though his reputation in the local music scene is based primarily on his talent as a violinist and his ambitions as a composer, Bentz is a voice major at the School of the Arts, where he’s been a student since 6th grade. “[Studying voice] is really kind of building another safety net.” To continue his violin training, Bentz’s parents paid for lessons at the Charleston Academy of Music. In 2007, CAM put him under the violin tutelage of Charleston Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker, who learned his chops at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore under violin teacher Herbert Greenberg. And when his music theory studies moved Bentz toward an interest in composing orchestral scores, his teachers put him in touch with College of Charleston professor Yiorgos Vassilandonakis. Vassilandonakis has been giving him one-on-one instruction in composition for the past 18 months.
The experts know. Bekker, who was something of a violin prodigy himself, has other über-talented students, but says Bentz stands out in his mind for more than just his work with the bow. “He’s really older for his age,” the Belarus native says, describing how the 15-year-old Bentz built a spreadsheet to catalog his collection of Dmitri Shostakovich recordings.
The future. As a student at Aspen, Bentz is studying under Greenberg, Bekker’s violin instructor from his days at Aspen and the Peabody Conservatory. Bentz plans on attending Peabody next fall as an incoming freshman, completing the generational loop, and hopes to double-major in violin and composition. “Violin is probably more lucrative,” Bentz says, imagining a career as a symphony musician. “Modern composition is considered really out there by most people … so you have to be really dependent on people appreciating your work. I really think it could be easy and fun to take those two fields and really expand them both.”