Dressed in slightly baggy white tails, Stefan Milenkovic, 10, has just played his 469th violin concert. Suddenly surrounded by American reporters, the angelic-looking virtuoso from Yugoslavia politely listens to their silly questions such as “Do you get nervous?” and “Do you ever have fun like a normal boy?”
Finally Stefan loses his cool. Slamming a small hand on the table, he says in English, “Finish! No more nervous, normal questions! Nervous! Normal! Arrggh!” His mom and dad soothe him with a little Serbo-Croatian, and Stefan disappears to go skateboarding. Later, when a fellow musician jokingly asks if he prefers his skateboard to his violin, he pauses: “Well…before concert, violin. After concert, skateboard.”
Considering that Stefan is one of the most sensational child prodigies in the world, the nervous-normal questions are understandable. He first performed in Yugoslavia when he was 3, and at 7 won an international competition in Czechoslovakia. Soon he was playing throughout Europe, and this summer he made his American debut at the prestigious Newport, R.I., Music Festival. His technique has inspired music critics to label him “amazing,” “exquisite” and “prodigiously gifted.” While other kids are starting back to school this fall, Stefan will begin a concert tour that will take him through eight South American and European countries. Missing classes back in Belgrade doesn’t unduly worry the young musical genius, who says his favorite thing about elementary school is “intermission.”
Many adults worry about the effects of such a bow-breaking concert schedule on a young child. But the only thing Stefan doesn’t like about performing is “when people give advice about my future. I don’t like the future. I enjoy now.”
“Me too,” adds his dad, Zoran, who travels everywhere with Stefan, along with the boy’s mother and accompanist, Lidia, and younger brother, Filip, 7. Zoran, a professional violinist, has coached Stefan since the boy was 2½, starting with five-minute lessons each day and gradually increasing practice time by five minutes every three months. “When he reaches 180 minutes,” his dad says, “we will stop. Nobody can practice more than three hours a day and still be normal.”
There’s that “normal” word again, and Zoran doesn’t like it much more than his son. “Stefan is a prodigy only when he is playing,” says Zoran. “But after that, he’s…” “A monster,” interrupts Stefan, grinning like any other kid.