Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ballet, Bartok, and the Johannes String Quartet!

CJ Chang, Me, Peter Stumpf, Cicely, and Soovin Kim

Me, Jessica Lee, and Cicely

Hi everyone,

October was a busy month, but we got to play some very exciting and fun performances! It was nice to return home for our concert with the Schenectady Symphony; this was my first time performing the Barber Concerto with orchestra, and what a thrilling experience it was! This piece has always been very special to me, so it was like a dream come true to perform it fully realized.

The next weekend, I got the chance to do something a little different - work with the IU Ballet! For someone who took ballet lessons all through childhood, it was exciting to see up close the process of real dancers putting a production together - and of course, to be a part of it on the music side! Their opening performance featured the work of a variety of American choreographers, one of whom, Twyla Tharp, set her work "Noir" to the violin duets of Bartok. This was the very first time "Noir" had been performed with live music! I remember playing these very charming duets a long time ago with my wonderful teacher, Betty-Jean Hagen, so it was great to bring them back again with Tim Kantor. We had some interesting moments working out tempos with the dancers; they definitely keep you on your toes! But in the end, we got the timing just right, and the Herald Times critic even gave us a complimentary sentence in the review – our rendition of the Bartok was "compellingly played!" As you musicians understand, it always feels good to hear some encouraging words from the press.

Speaking of Tim, our quartet performed for the first time together last week; we got the chance to play in a masterclass for the Johannes String Quartet, who were here in Bloomington for the week and performed an amazing concert today. They are such extraordinary musicians! Soovin Kim and CJ Chang were the masters of the class, and I think we benefited greatly from their brilliant and insightful feedback. Also, we've been so busy rehearsing in small- to medium-sized practice rooms that it was very fulfilling for us all to finally hear ourselves in a concert hall.

Bloomington finally feels like autumn now; say hello to sweaters, hot cocoa, and pumpkin pies!

All for now.


Sunday, September 26, 2010


Hi Everyone,

It has been just one month since our first semester here at IU began, but Bloomington is starting to feel like home! The past few weeks have truly flown by, and as we prepare to go home next weekend for our concert with the Schenectady Symphony, it makes it seem like just yesterday that we arrived. We have gotten to know some wonderful people, and this amazing school has provided us with truly fertile ground to continue to learn and develop as musicians. I will have to post more later because there are so many people and possibilities to tell you about, but for now, here are a few highlights of things that have been going on in our new home!

First, Cicely and I are both playing in a fantastic ensemble called the New Music Ensemble, directed by Professor David Dzubay. As you may know from our recent CD #3 announcement (see, we are both very passionate about playing contemporary music, so we were really excited to find out that we would have the opportunity to do just that outside of the duo world. It is a small group of about 20 players, all of whom are outstanding. Our first concert is coming up this week!

We love our teachers! Mr. Laredo is a great inspiration for me, and I am having a great time working with him on the extremely large amount of repertoire I have to do these days. Besides being a tremendously supportive and inspiring teacher, he is an incredible human being. I feel so honored to be studying with him. Also, I got the chance to meet for the first time and have a lesson with Josh Bell when he came to the Jacob's School for a couple of days last week; what a special opportunity.

Finally, we have formed a quartet! Despite all of the chamber music Cicely and I have played together, it has been primarily of the duo and piano trio genre and not the string quartet. We are very lucky to have met violinist Tim Kantor, a doctorate student here at IU, and violist Gerry Varona who is working on his Master's. We are very compatible musically and share a common creative vision, but everyone’s unique perspective is always heard. Our coach is violinist Ik-Hwan Bae, who has been working with us on some phenomenal music, including Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" quartet and Quartet No. 5 by Bartok. I grew up listening to the Schubert, so it is a piece which is very special to me; how fulfilling to finally have the opportunity to play it with wonderful musicians like Cicely, Tim, and Gerry!

This is just a snapshot of our many latest activities, but I will be back soon. Speaking of snapshots, I've attached a photo from the duo concert we performed the weekend before school started; this took place at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, MI. In addition to the Bolcom Suite for Violin and Cello, Cicely performed Bolcom's Unaccompanied Cello Suite, and the composer himself and his wife Ms. Morris were there to hear it!

All for now. Enjoy autumn - it is a beautiful season.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Final Installment: Berlin

Hi there,

I must begin by apologizing for the lengthy delay since my last post; Cicely and I have moved to Bloomington, Indiana! Even though we have been here a short two weeks, we have already fallen in love with our new surroundings and are extremely excited about what this year will bring. We will of course send updates in this regard, but for now, suffice it to say that the town, the school, and the people are all fantastic. This is a special place indeed.

While the present excitement of being in a new place makes our visit to Germany last June seem far away, it still remains a vivid highlight of our entire European trip. We made a short detour to the city of Bonn before continuing to Berlin, and it was there that we got the chance to see the Beethoven House. I can hardly believe I was there, and even at the time it was too overwhelming to fully absorb.

Though we stayed for only a few days in Berlin, we took advantage of the time and explored many of the different neighborhoods that one can find in this very sprawling city. Indeed there is a striking distinction between them, which in some cases serves as a vivid reminder of the profound upheaval that took place there. For example, while there are very beautiful, leafy residential neighborhoods and modern-looking commercial sections where tourists go for shopping, there are also entire blocks which remain bare aside from small piles of concrete rubble.

Coincidentally, the date of our trip landed during the heat of the World Cup playoffs, and we were actually lucky enough to take part in the excitement; we met a good friend of Yaron's who took us to one of Berlin's outdoor sports bars to watch the match between England and Germany - what an exciting football game!

While our explorations in London and Paris kept us primarily outside and on the street, in Berlin we got the chance to attend an opera! Thanks to a very kind friend, we were given tickets to see "Carmen" performed by the Deutsche Oper, which was my first opportunity to see this masterpiece performed live - what an exciting evening! Afterwards, we were all surprised to see the hundreds of audience members flock to the subway rather than to individual cars; public transportation once again proved to be the preferred alternative.

In thinking over the entire European trip, it is incredible to me how little it takes to be transported to a country entirely unique from the others which surround it. Indeed, the world of Paris is so completely different from Berlin, and yet all that separates the two is a short train ride. In this sense, Europe is tremendously rich culturally, and for a musician, this is one of the most exciting aspects of all.

And so, as I welcome the arrival of my favorite month of the year, September, I cannot help but look to the future with great anticipation; there is much to be discovered and learned here at the Jacob's School, and I also cannot wait for my next chance to return to the other side of the Atlantic.

All for now.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Europe Part 2: London!

Hi there,

I am going back in time for this blog, as I began the overview of our incredible trip to Europe with Paris since it was the overwhelming favorite of the three cities we visited. However, London was magnificent as well, and especially since this was our first stop, its impact was rather powerful.

Perhaps one of the city's features I found the most astounding was its architecture. For an American who rarely encounters buildings of such grand proportions, it was quite a shock to be surrounded, on every block, by the extremely large, historic, and elegant examples of London's architecture. It is a feeling one must become accustomed to, to be immersed in history when taking a simple stroll to the grocery store. I found that I could not walk along the street without gazing up every few feet to admire a giant library or government building. While it sometimes made me extremely conscious of feeling like a tourist, I do hope the people of London never take for granted the magnificence of their city.

We visited some amazing places! In addition to Big Ben, Buckingham, Kensington Palace and Gardens, and of all things, the British Film Museum, we spent an entire day at the Tower of London, which was a very crowded and exciting place. History has always been one of my passions, so the museum inside the main tower, which displayed everything from 300-year-old armor to 800-year-old checker pieces, entertained me for hours. I think perhaps my favorite outing, however, was our visit to the lovely neighborhood of Chelsea to see friends. The rows of houses looked as if they had come right out of a scene from Mary Poppins, and it was there that I got the chance to ride at the very top and very front of one of the red double-decker buses!

Something that caught my attention was the tidiness of London. I learned that posting things like flyers and brochures on lampposts, walls, and in other public places is not allowed because this is considered "littering the city." There are recycling bins on every block, and the garbage bins are often the size of mailboxes. The cars are small, and the "undergrounds" are extremely efficient and clean.

What a wonderful example of preservation, not only of history and the past, but of the things of the present as well. After all, isn't it the present which dictates the future?

All for now. Berlin will be coming soon!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Home from Europe!

Hi there!

It has been a week since Cicely and I returned from our big trip across the Atlantic, and I am still reeling from the excitement! In many ways, it was a truly life-changing two weeks, and I feel so fortunate that I was able to enjoy and learn from this incredible experience. And, as there are so many wonderful things to recount, I feel I must separate them into three blogs, one for each city: London, Paris, and Berlin. But I must begin with Paris because, for me, it was the sparkling highlight of the entire trip.

Beginning from a child who loved reading the Madeline books to the musician whose favorite college classes were French, I have always felt a special connection to the French language and to French music. Musicians are so often questioned as to their favorite composers, and I have found that the response which comes the closest to my answering such a difficult question is, "French composers!" I was a French minor in college, and my first time out of the country was last summer when I spent a few days in Montreal. Still, I have long wanted to see with my own eyes the country that was home to such masters as Debussy and Ravel, and to hear with my own ears the beauty of the French language all around me.

Paris exceeded my expectations. It is a city which, if I had to describe in one word, is alive. It is alive with culture, beauty, food, history, and of course, music. The moment we emerged from the train station, I sensed an intangible, special feeling in the air that seemed to remain beyond one's first impressions. But somehow, it was within the tangible details of the city that I felt this intangible something; from the violinist on the metro playing Bach to the manner in which the waitor asks if you would like a cup of coffee, one senses that there is an almost magical quality to Paris.

As with the other cities we visited, we spent most of our time simply walking - walking from the morning until the evening, exploring as many parts of the city as we could, and enjoying the incomparable French cuisine along the way. Everything from the architecture to the gardens to La Seine to the small cobblestoned streets meant only for pedestrians, is beautiful. And all along the way, one is surrounded by a beautiful music - the French language. Indeed, Paris is a city of beauty.

Up next: London!

All for now.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Musical Heroes

Hi Everyone,

This month, I would like to share a wonderful story with you. If you click on the link below, you will find a very brief article entitled "German Unemployed Get a Boost Through Music," which discusses the efforts of a young German woman to help Leipzig's unemployed through music.

Stories like this one are so inspiring to me because it serves as a reminder that music, in its simplest of forms, can have a profoundly meaningful impact on people's lives and help them through the great vicissitudes of life. And perhaps what is most striking to me is this woman's vision to take a terribly difficult situation and transform it into a positive force in the community. I think it takes a great person to create something beautiful out of hardship. How many people would have had such a healthy response? Or how much more simple would it have been to surrender to the misfortune and the problems and unhappiness which result?

Through the gift of song, every human being is a musician. I sang in church choirs for the first twelve years of my life, and the "feeling of being valued," as the article points out, is very real. And indeed, it is one of the most wonderful ways to make music with other people. You are a part of a team, and you are all working to create something beautiful together.

A few days ago, I went to a rehearsal for the Columbia County Children's Vocal Ensemble, which is directed by Sheri Bauer-Mayorga, one of my favorite musicians and human beings. To hear a group of kids all enjoying music, enjoying each other, and working together was a true inspiration for me. The thought which went through my mind at the time was, "This is the essence of music."

And it is people like Sarie Teichfischer and Sheri Bauer-Mayorga who make it happen. They are the musical heroes.

All for now.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Moving On

Hi everyone,

With only one more final exam remaining, my graduation from The College of Saint Rose is quickly approaching! Having never experienced the traditional high school graduation, I now understand exactly what students are referring to when they say it is a bittersweet occasion. I feel very attached to my school and the many wonderful people I have met; it makes it difficult not to feel rather nostalgic about the transition, especially as I go through the routine of "that was my last French class," or "that was my last concert." I've made many memories there, and in a sense, I really feel as if I have "grown up" at St. Rose. But, I know I will always carry these experiences with me as I move on.

Indeed, looking towards the future, there are some phenomenally exciting things to look forward to this summer, including my first trip to Europe in June. (I can't wait to try out my French during our stay in Paris!) And then, it will be time to MOVE TO IU in August, a completely new stage of my life. I cannot wait to begin these next adventures, and will be sure to keep you posted!

All for now.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Concert Experience

Hello Everyone,

I thought I would share with you a very interesting article that I recently found entitled "How to sell classical music to the masses." It came from a news website based in the UK, and the principal topic is a discussion about the modern classical concert experience and the efforts that have been made to attract a larger, younger audience.

I especially like the fact that the article provides a dozen or so commentaries written by people from many different areas of the music industry. There is a great deal of variety when it comes to the topics people choose to address - everything from the ideal time of day for concerts, the lighting in the hall, the choice of programming, ways to lighten the atmosphere, etc. I found one pianist's comment to be a very important thought; "it's all about me communicating with the audience as one of them, not as a lecturer or an academic."

I think it is important for us musicians to remind ourselves that we perform in order to share an experience, Music, with others. The reasons that bring us all, both performers and audience members, to the concert hall should really be the same in the end - a passion for music and its ability to touch us in special ways that can never be fully explained.

I hope you enjoy the article!

All for now.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Albany Symphony Orchestra!

Hello everyone,

Well, despite some of the worst weather we've seen so far this winter, our weekend of performances with the Albany Symphony was completely fantastic! Indeed, thank you so much to everyone who braved the elements to come hear these special concerts. It is always so inspiring to play for such an enthusiastic audience! It was also a true honor and privilege for us to work with David Alan Miller and the ASO.

This series included three concerts in three days, which is an experience very different from preparing for one concert only. Although not always the case, I am more accustomed to preparing for concerts that come and go in a single evening, but this past weekend forced me to look more closely at the idea of "pacing one's self."

How does a musician bring a set of repertoire to its highest level, and then maintain that intensity over the course of days? Many performers with major careers (such as Hilary Hahn) consider it a matter of course to take particular concertos on the road for weeks/months at a time. And there is no doubt about it; the very first performance always has that extra dose of adrenalin which is difficult to duplicate many evenings in a row. However, it is important that we learn how to prepare ourselves for each and every performance, even if it is for the 50th time.

So! Here are a couple of small things I have learned: (1) morning: "maintenance practicing;" play everything slowly to save your energy and focus on specific passages, (2) afternoon: naps are amazing, and (3) right before the concert: a PayDay is great because it gives you extra energy without making you jittery.

And there it is! For those of you who are musicians, I would love to know how you feel about this topic, and for those of you who are not - well, you now have caught a glimpse of a behind-the-scenes Musician Issue!

All for now. Perhaps the next time I write, some snow will have melted.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bolcom: Suite for Violin and Cello

Hi Everyone,

Last week, Cicely and I had the great fortune to meet and work with William Bolcom, the renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning, Grammy Award-winning composer and pianist! He composed a fantastic work called "Suite for Violin and Violoncello," which has quickly become one of our favorite duos, and we look forward to performing it soon.

It is such a unique experience to work with the composer himself on his music. For those of you who are musicians, I think we all sometimes wish we could write a list of questions for Beethoven, have his direct answers, and so put all other opinions to rest. Much of the time, omissions and ambiguity on the part of the composer force us to rely upon our own judgement, which not only leads to a diversity of interpretations, but debate as well.

To prepare a piece of contemporary music under the guidance of its creator can therefore be a fantastic opportunity to acquire some degree of authority; when questioned, one merely has to point out, "the composer said so!"

It was an honor to play for Mr. Bolcom and his famous wife and mezzo-soprano, Joan Morris. We left with several CDs and a stack of music to work on; Bolcom violin sonatas and cello sonatas will be making their way to our rep lists shortly!

All for now.