An Nuanced Experience @ Carnegie Hall

I've had the rare opportunity to perform a concert in an unusual combination of instrumentation this month: harp, violin and cello.  What made this particular performance special was that it took place at Carnegie Hall in the beautiful Weill Recital Hall (my first performance in this legendary venue!).  I had the great pleasure of performing with harpist June Han, a faculty member at the Yale School of Music and the Juilliard pre college division, as well as the extremely talented cellist James Jeonghwan Kim, a musician with a great mind, , spirit, and ear.  None of us had heard of Renie's harp trio before we came together to rehearse the work, and so we were all thrown into the fascinating position of learning a piece from absolute scratch, a situation that seems to happen less and less frequently these days in my classical chamber music life. 

This strange trio ended up giving us host of challenges.  I had never performed with a harp before, and less could I have expected of the possibilities this instrumentation could provide in the way of ambitious "symphonic" chamber writing.  Henriette Renié, a French harp virtuoso of the 19th and 20th century, had conceived of this trio to be performed either with a piano or a harp, and her compositional language had much of the Franck-inspired, and almost Straussian influence that invites the performer's imagination to believe they're performing a symphony filled with heroic sweeps and luscious textures and melodic styles ranging from the passionate and plaintive chanson to the rustic and burlesque.  This obviously very ambitious work, which aimed for the epic and grandiose, even went as far as to give homage to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in its final movement by briefly recapitulating each previous movements' themes!

 So, with this task at hand, it was a very unique challenge to bring the work to life with the unusual combination of harp, violin, and cello.  The challenge of balance was immediate from the first rehearsal: whereas with a piano, the violinist and cellist would sometimes worry about being drowned out by the sheer force or volume of sound coming from a nine foot Steinway, with the harp, we found we were overplaying and forced in the beginning to walk on eggshells.  The delicate instrument of the harp is capable of creating the most beautiful washes of harmony and texture, but in terms of sheer volume in forte passages, James and I realized that we needed to search for a more suggestive forte less we over-dominate the balance.  What resulted was, for me, a wonderfully rich experience and exploration of nuance throughout a piece which asked for a great deal of it.  (Renie's markings were numerous and sometimes downright cryptic).  

Perhaps what was most satisfying about experiencing this piece with my colleagues was the translation of our exploration of the work to the audience on stage at Weill.  The hall was such an ideal place for such a work, and the audience that night seemed to have that open and adventurous spirit!  I had so much fun!

I'm so thankful to have had the joy of meeting and working with June and James as well as to David Shifrin who provided me with this opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall with these wonderful musicians!  There is that old riddle of how one gets to Carnegie Hall that we all know the answer to.  I suppose that the follow up riddle is how does one return?

Music@Menlo

When I received an invitation to attend and perform at the world class festival Music@Menlo, I was so excited to learn that I would be collaborating with old and new friends I've made on my path as a performing artist.  

Among those I will be working with: violinist Boson Mo whom I read quartets with within my first week at the Cleveland Institute of Music.  His sincere devotion to chamber music and his humility as a servant to art and music is admirable and inspiring!  I've had the pleasure of becoming friends with violist DJ Cheek at the wonderful chamber music festival of Yellow Barn.  His fiery enthusiasm and intensity during performance is certainly one of a kind, and hilarity would always ensue between concerts and rehearsals due to his fabulous sense of humor!  When it came to a serious performance, he is always spot on!  Violinist Peter Iivonen is a newer acquaintance I made this past March in Seoul, Korea.  We met for the first time after the semi-final results at the Seoul International Music Competition, and it's hard not to make friends following the euphoria of learning that we had advanced!  He is a fantastic violinist, and it will be a pleasure to make music with Peter outside of the atmosphere of a violin competition!

Post Seoul Competition..

It has been a very long time since my very first post (and only post as it is) so I feel I'm way past due to grace this blog with my second!  Many exciting things coming up after my month long sojourn in Korea.  I'm glad to be returning as a soloist with the conductorless string chamber group #InternationalSejongSoloists.  I will be performing various works by Tchaikovsky, a composer whose music I've had a relationship with ever since I was a child.  My mother, who was trained as a ballet dancer, had exposed my sister and I to all sorts of ballet theater when we were children.  Every Christmas, we had a tradition of watching a VHS tape of Baryshnikov dancing as the Nutcracker with the American Ballet.  It had captured my musical imagination and it is precisely that ballet and Swan Lake that I would always emotionally refer to whenever I perform Tchaikovsky!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mrF_W1FuOY

Later in the summer, I will be attending #Music@Menlo, a festival in California run by Lincoln #CMS artistic directors #DavidFinckel and #WuHan.  They are both wonderful humans and musicians, full of life and a love for music, and I cannot wait to spend four exciting weeks rehearsing and performing chamber music there!  Here's a cool clip which shows a bit about Music@Menlo if you'd like to get to know more about it!:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaU7BIspTRY

In my studio, one of my pet projects is writing a new fantasy on Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel.  I came across this opera when I was studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and was instantly charmed by its childlike melodies and drama in miniature.  Check out my future recitals in which I will perform it.  I'm excited and pleased how it's turning out!  It will be available with my transcription of Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin in the fall of this year!

As I look back on my experience at the 2015 #SeoulInternationalMusicCompetition, I think of the moments on stage when I truly felt that I was part of a music competition, and not merely a violin competition.  I think that in the world of violin, it is easy to get caught up in "violinisms", those aspects of the violin culture which limits ones musical imagination to the traditions of violinistic thought.  Certainly, in a competition, one could feel a sense of security by invoking the past masters of the instrument, and listen to the great recordings as a point of imitation or inspiration.  

In the end, however, competition or no competition, we are left to our own devices when it comes to truly being sincere with our art and expression, and life after a competition for me is a stark reminder that to remain centered in your artistic vision, you must be willing to follow your own unique and diverging path without too much apology.

11/5/2014

Hello everybody!  Welcome to my new site!  I apologize as it is currently under construction, but soon the site will be fully functional and will include everything from my recent tour schedules and repertoire to a store for purchasing my CDs and other things.  All in all, I'm glad to have finally built this little corner on the internet so that I can keep fans up to date with my new projects and various happenings and what have you on my travels.  Looking forward to keeping you all informed, and hope you enjoy taking a look around!  Stay warm, and till my next post...

ST