Longtime leader of the Blacksburg Community Strings Åke-Eric Renqvist will retire from his position as the orchestra’s music director and conductor after the group’s concert on May 1, 2022.
Maestro Renqvist has served as music director and conductor of the Blacksburg Community Strings (BCS) for the past 22 years. He joined the group shortly after retiring to Newport after a long and distinguished career as a violist and conductor in his native Finland.
During his 29 years as a violist with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra made many recordings and toured all over the world. The President of Finland awarded Renqvist the title Director Musices in December 1995 in honor of his thirty years of teaching and conducting the North Kymi College of Music Symphony Orchestra and the Rauma Sinfonietta.
Åke (pronounced “oh-kay”) first visited the United States in 1968 at age 35 while on tour with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. He met his wife Helen in Finland, although she is a native of Virginia, and when the time came to retire from his busy life in professional music the two decided to relocate to Helen’s hometown and continue their son Robbie’s education in the United States.
His interest in the violin started at age 5 after seeing one played at a party. When he was 12 years old, he had taken only three violin lessons when Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union in 1942. After their home was destroyed in Helsinki, his family moved to the country where Åke developed a love for cross-country skiing and continued to teach himself to play the violin. He later completed his studies on viola at Sibelius Academy, a music conservatory in Helsinki, and studied conducting with Premysl Charvat, then principal conductor for the National Opera in Prague.
Renqvist has also had an extensive teaching career, including many years at Helsinki Conservatory and other music academie. He also served as director of a private music school in Helsinki. He has mentored a number of students who have gone on to play professionally around the world.
During his tenure as conductor in Virginia, he collaborated with former students and colleagues as featured soloists while many local students, including BCS players, have flourished under his instruction
“Mr. Renqvist accepted me as an adult student learning cello as a new instrument,” said John Crawford, the principal cellist of the Blacksburg Community Strings. “I had no prior experience with string instruments, but he helped me get from being an absolute beginner to the ‘gigging’ cellist I am today. He always challenged me not only to play the notes on the page but to also play them well. I was as much a student of cello as I was a student of music.”.
Current student and treasurer of the BCS, Andrea Muscatello, remarked “Åke’s teaching is to foster the love of music in his students, regardless of ability. He finds the talent and musical voice from inside the student and rejoices in their success.”
“During my time as president, I grew to understand how deeply committed Åke is to the development of amateur musicians,” noted Marta Brinberg, past president of the BCS. “He guides and celebrates the progress of each ensemble member. His motto seems to be ‘of course you can do it.’ “
Maestro Renqvist will continue to teach violin, viola, and cello lessons from his home studio, but his wealth of experience and generosity of spirit will surely be missed on the podium in front of this local community orchestra.