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Violin Prodigy Leila Josefowicz Has the World on a String

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Even for a grown-up, performing in front of the President of the U.S. without sneaking a look at him would pose quite a challenge. But when 10-year-old Leila Josefowicz took the stage at the opening of the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, Calif., in January, she kept her eyes right where they belonged: on her dancing violin bow. Only after her rendition of Wieniawski’s difficult Scherzo-Tarentelle brought down the house did the pint-size virtuoso face the President’s box and break into a grin. “I knew if I tried to peek at the audience it would ruin my concentration,” she says. Since her first performance at age 3, Leila’s extraordinary talent and poise have landed her solos with the San Fernando Valley Symphony, the Pacific Symphony and other groups near her Westlake Village, Calif., home. Before the Hope Center gala, which airs on NBC this Saturday, she played a duet with Dudley Moore at a star-studded tribute in Los Angeles to Leonard Bernstein, who later rewarded her performance with hugs and kisses. Critics routinely pronounce her a joy to hear, and the legendary Van Cliburn, who shares the bill with her on the Hope Center special, is a fan. Leila, he said recently, “has the world at her feet.”

Born in Toronto, the daughter of physicist Jack Josefowicz and his wife, Wendy, a former biologist, Leila took up the fiddle at age 3. “I didn’t want to practice much,” she admits. “I was only a baby, and you know how babies are.” But she grew up fast. “One day when Leila was 5,” remembers Jack, “I was running the vacuum, and she turned to me and said, ‘That’s an F sharp.’ It was the first time we became aware that she had perfect pitch.” Leila began studying with her current teacher, Robert Lipsett, in 1985, and a brilliant career was launched.

A fifth grader at Westlake Elementary School, Leila practices three to four hours a day and still finds time for goofing around. She romps regularly with her Labrador and enjoys almost any music but rock. (“That’s just a lot of banging and crashing,” she says.) Being a prodigy, she finds, isn’t all that hard. “I just eat a cheeseburger before I perform,” she says, “and Daddy sends out brain waves like, ‘You will be good.’ I think the same way as my dad.”