Overcoming adversity, hitting high notes

Overcoming adversity, hitting high notes

Violinist Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz ’99E, ’02E (MM) expands music career and serves the community

Photo of Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz ’99E, ’02E (MM) Share a bit about yourself! What are you up to now?

Since graduating with my master’s degree, so much has happened in my professional life, that it is tough to choose what to highlight! I have made a career as a performer, recording artist, arranger, and contractor, and it seems the list of my musical endeavors is ever-expanding, something I attribute to the worldly music education I received at Eastman.

I have shared the stage with many big stars, from The Who, to Lauryn Hill, to Earth, Wind, and Fire, and many others. I have contributed to a Grammy-nominated album, and I am also the co-owner and founder of an entertainment contracting and production company called Philly Music Lab which I started with a close friend from ESM in 2015, Samantha Wittchen. Last summer, I had the honor of performing as a featured soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, alongside Pittsburgh rapper Frzy, as the orchestra performed my original arrangement of the hip hop song co-written by Frzy and I called “What Do I Know” for the city’s Juneteenth celebration. In addition to my performing and recording activities, I am extremely proud to serve the music community as vice president and co-chair of membership for the Philadelphia Chapter of the Recording Academy.

After finishing my degrees, I had always hoped to move back to the incredible music town that is my hometown of Philadelphia, so after a couple of years freelancing (Albany Symphony, Binghamton Philharmonic, and many regional gigs), I did just that, and am still based in Philly. However, as life is unpredictable, just before leaving Rochester, I was severely injured in a hit-and-run motor vehicle accident. This completely derailed my life and career, and I was told (erroneously) that I would never play professionally again. If not for my incredible family, and one special doctor who believed in me, I likely would have wound up in a very dire set of circumstances. After a long recovery, I began to play again little by little and won a position in the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, where I still perform.

What are your most cherished memories from the University of Rochester?

My most cherished memories from my time at Eastman include the years of incredible teaching, friendship, and mentorship I received from my beloved violin teacher, the inimitable Oleh Krysa. He taught me to believe in my talent, no matter where it would take me, and to honor and respect it. We still talk, and his teaching still guides my playing every day. One incredibly important moment for me during my time at ESM was my appointment as concertmaster when John Williams came to conduct a program of his music. I performed the solos from many of his films (on the Vuillaume violin owned by the school), including “Schindler’s List,” “Far and Away,” “The Reivers,” and more, to a standing-room-only audience in Eastman Theater. It remains a highlight of my career.

My membership in the professional fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon afforded me relationships with other musicians who still guide me in connecting and working with others in our industry today. The camaraderie we established allowed us to work together to help others, bringing music to the community while making life-long friendships along the way. Eastman is a place where many of my current collegial and personal relationships within the music world originated, and I am always proud and excited to work with fellow alumni. I also spent a great deal of time at Java’s, mostly practicing in the boiler room there instead of in the Annex at school. Yes, the boiler room. You’d be surprised how inspiring an industrial-looking space can be for practicing! Shout out to Mike Calabrese and his staff for keeping us caffeinated and working hard!

How did your experience at the University of Rochester influence your life?

I was awarded significant scholarships for both degrees, which allowed me to use part of my grad school loans to purchase the amazing violin I now own. Eastman allowed me to succeed, not only by affording me that financial flexibility, but by giving me the tools to grow my music business acumen. There were hardly any other conservatories offering arts leadership, so when the ALP program began during my undergrad, I quickly started taking advantage of that resource. Without courses like “Music Business Law 101,” or “How to Survive and Thrive in the Arts,” frankly, without teachers like Ramon Ricker, Adrian Daly, or Fred Sturm, I’m not sure where my career would have wound up. They all gave me the critical tools needed to work as a musician, not just be one.

What sparked your initial interest in volunteering with the University? What role(s) have you held?

Serving my community is important to me, so I volunteer with the Philadelphia Network Leadership Council (NLC) to help create more connections for Philadelphia area alumni and to help the University identify where we may have continuing opportunities for them.

What advice do you have for fellow alumni and friends who may be interested in taking a more active role in our alumni and friends’ community?

I would advise fellow alumni to get involved. We have a support system in place as a community of alumni of this great school, and when we show up for each other, we can work together and achieve great things. Also, I believe that networking is a very important part of being a successful performing artist, and a very important part of achieving representation. We need you in these rooms, and we need your voices to be heard.  

What’s the most rewarding part of staying connected with your alma mater?

The most rewarding part of staying connected to ESM is the continued support and development of initiatives to push our art form into the future while preserving its integrity. I feel so fortunate to have received the well-rounded music education I did and love seeing my fellow alums thrive and have great success. I’m writing this while attending the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles this week, and am proud that I will see more than one alumnus of Eastman being honored for their work and talent.

If you’d like to learn more about what Alexandra and her team are doing, visit linktr.ee/stringsdiva and www.phillyjewishmusic.org for more info.

—Amelia Sykes, Spring 2024