When Gilles Bonneau invited his former viola teacher to visit The Girls’ School of Austin while on tour in The United States, he didn’t anticipate that two of his students would be invited to Europe the following year.
“Pierre Henri Xuereb taught me years ago. Not only is he an incredible violist who has released many CDs and a professor at the Paris Conservatory, he is also a very warm and approachable person.” prefaced Bonneau, who serves as the current strings instructor at GSA. “A few years back, we had talked about him visiting our school, and he eventually did so with his assistant Ruixin Niu last November. It was absolutely wonderful. We partnered with Kealing Middle School to arrange a series of master classes and recitals, and Pierre Henri was particularly appreciative of Shiloh and her sister Imogen’s playing.”
The siblings in question, Eighth Grader Shiloh Hendrickse and Class of 2022’s Imogen Hendrickse, recall the sheer excitement that came with Xuereb and Niu’s visit to GSA.
“We were both given the opportunity to do a master class with them on campus, and Immie was invited back since she’d already graduated,” explained Shiloh, who will become a GSA Alumna herself in Spring of 2024. “When we played for them, it was a very cool but nerve-wracking experience.”
Imogen remembers the exact moment Xuereb and Niu approached her with the idea of attending one of their summer music camps on a full-scholarship.
“They came up to me and my mom, and they said, ‘I really enjoyed working with you, is there any way we can offer you and your sister a scholarship to come and study with us in France?’” recounted Imogen, now a freshman at McCallum High School. “At first, I thought it was just an idea; I didn’t think it would actually happen. So when Pierre Henri emailed us a few months later, we thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is really official.’ We were sent pieces to start working on, and before we knew it, we were on a flight to France.”
Led by Xuereb himself, the week-long summer camp took place in Lasalle, a rural town in the South of France lush with trees and rolling hills. According to Imogen, her and her sister’s schedules consisted of several orchestra and chamber rehearsals, where they practiced alongside the other talented musicians in attendance. Both of them also received 1-1 lessons taught by Xuereb and his colleagues. The week concluded with an intimate recital at a local church in the main square of Lasalle, where several of the musicians’ families and friends sat in attendance.
“It was not the huge audience you’d see if you went to the Austin Symphony,” Imogen assured. “But I personally prefer a smaller crowd. There’s an ambiance and an intimacy to it, and there’s a lot more opportunities for connection between the musicians and the people they’re playing for.”
Both Shiloh and Imogen agreed that their trip to Lasalle challenged them to become more independent amid a huge culture shock.
“I was so concerned about being on time to rehearsals, figuring out the map of the town, and just settling in. We were even in charge of cooking our own breakfast and dinner, which shocked me a little bit,” Imogen admitted with a laugh. “But I thought developing that independence was very cool.”
“It was incredibly stressful,” Shiloh agreed. “But we got to meet lots of people in the process, and I learned a lot.”
Shiloh and Imogen’s mother, Nhaila Hendrickse, expressed her gratitude to Mr. Bonneau for providing her daughters with the opportunity to explore and challenge themselves in their artistic endeavors.
“It was a remarkable opportunity for my girls, and it’s a testament to Mr. Bonneau’s deep care and commitment to his students, even after they have graduated,” she shared. “My girls and I have been lucky to be a part of this community for over a decade, and this is yet another example of how the teachers and staff go out of their way to provide opportunities and show a sincere interest in each of the girls.”
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