John Heffernan appointed Concertmaster of West Michigan Symphony

Muskegon, April 13, 2021—Violinist John Heffernan, who has served as Interim Concertmaster during the past two seasons, has been appointed Concertmaster of West Michigan Symphony, Music Director Scott Speck announced today.  The concertmaster, who heads the first violin section, is the highest leadership position among all the musicians in the orchestra, second in authority only to the music director and conductor.

“John has demonstrated exemplary leadership both on and off stage,” said Maestro Speck. “During the past two seasons, John’s leadership has blossomed as the organization navigated unforeseen challenges.  As we began to plan for brighter days it became evident that John had a commitment to the organization and that there was a mutual feeling of drive and attention to excellence.”

The concertmaster is responsible for understanding the conductor’s ideas and communicating them in technical terms to the rest of the orchestra. This includes determining bowings for the first violin section, which have a direct impact on the rest of the string choir; playing solo passages in the absence of a guest soloist; and leading the orchestra in tuning before rehearsals and performances.

“I am incredibly grateful and honored to be joining the West Michigan Symphony as Concertmaster,” said Mr. Heffernan. “For the past two seasons, I have had the privilege of getting to know its talented musicians and friendly audiences. The West Michigan Symphony is a world class organization and I look forward to many wonderful performances to come.”

Mr. Heffernan was the unanimous winner of auditions held in spring 2019, following the resignation of his predecessor, Jennifer Walvoord.  An innovative and passionate violinist and educator, he currently plays with both WMS and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He made his orchestral debut at age 15 with the Beach Cities Symphony after being named winner of the Young Artist of the Future Competition. Born and raised in Manhattan Beach, California, Mr. Heffernan received his Bachelor of Music Degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with William Preucil. While at the Cleveland Institute, he was accepted to study abroad for a semester at the Conservatoire de Paris. While in Paris he studied violin with Sylvia Gazeau and chamber music with Itamar Golan. 

After graduating from CIM, Mr. Heffernan moved to Chicago to study with the renowned pedagogue, Almita Vamos, at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts. While pursuing his master’s degree in violin performance, he was a founding member and second violinist of the Yas Quartet. The diverse and inclusive group traveled to China twice and won third prize at the Schoenfeld International String Competition.  

After graduating with his Master of Music Degree in May of 2018, John became a Fellow with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. In addition to his community engagement responsibilities in the Civic Fellowship program, Mr. Heffernan was also a leader on stage as the concertmaster of the Civic Orchestra each season he was a member. Through Civic, John performed as a soloist with Yo-Yo Ma twice—once playing the solo violin part for Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 on the Chicago River Walk, and again as concertmaster for Civic’s Centennial Celebration concert broadcasted live on WFMT. 

Michigan Arts & Culture Council
National Endowment for the Arts