The Violin Channel recently sat down with VC Artist Paul Huang, Danbi Um, and Angela Yoffe. Angela is the co-founder of Chicago's North Shore Chamber Music Festival (NSCMF) — where Paul and Danbi will perform on April 10 with pianist Amy Yang.
Angela, please tell us about The North Shore Chamber Music Festival? When was it founded and what is the festival’s mission?
Vadim and I founded the festival in 2010. Our vision was and remains two-fold. We wanted to provide the North Shore of Chicago, where we live, with musical experiences of the same caliber and quality as those found in the great halls of the world. However, we wanted it in an intimate environment that would be welcoming for both connoisseurs of chamber music and concert goers who are new to classical music, all at an affordable price.
Secondly, we wanted to support the education of young talented artists. Our Arkady Fomin Scholarship Fund celebrates its sixth anniversary this year. It has provided more than 30 young artists from 20 countries with scholarships for professional development.
Please tell us about the NSCMF’s onstage/offstage series.
Our onstage/offstage series was born out of the pandemic, which forced the cancelation of our 10th Anniversary summer festival. Ultimately, however, COVID-19 served as a catalyst for the creation of both our four-week summer intensive workshops for children and this exciting onstage/offstage series that streams live from our website.
The series embraces the same mission of serving the public with informal concerts by acclaimed musicians and showcasing gifted young artists who are beginning their careers.
If we want to watch any of this year’s concerts, how can we go about this?
Encore broadcasts of several onstage/offstage series concerts are available on the NSCMF’s website https://nscmf.org/onstage-offstage/
Our Gala concert and the cello workshop with Johannes Moser are still offered as complimentary events for everyone to enjoy. We’ve been thrilled to partner with The Violin Channel in offering streaming broadcasts of onstage/offstage series.
This summer’s North Shore Chamber Music Festival on June 9, 11, and 12 will be held with a limited in-person audience and streamed live on www.nscmf.org and on the Violin Channel. Thanks to the generosity of our patrons and sponsors, all concerts will be offered free of charge. We can’t wait to reconnect with our audiences around the world.
Paul and Danbi, tell us about your upcoming concert at the North Shore Chamber Music Festival? What can we expect to hear and how did you decide on the program?
Paul Huang: The program is titled "Colors of Virtuosity." It highlights the important qualities of the violin which are its singing quality, soulfulness, and brilliance. Not one, but two violins will be showcased in this program (a 1742 Ex-Wieniawski Guarneri del Gesu and a 1683 Ex-Petcheks Nicolo Amati), so there will surely be fireworks going on up on stage! The program starts with Mendelssohn’s F major sonata, a piece that’s filled with bubbly spirits, but the second movement, for me, is the highlight of the piece. It gives us a glimpse of the spiritual side of Mendelssohn.
Danbi Um: I often enjoy listening to old recordings and searching for repertoire that I am not yet familiar with, and it’s always a tremendous joy when rare instances come about, as with the Korngold and the Bloch pieces in this program. I sometimes come across gem pieces written by some of my favorite composers, played by artists whose playing I am forever enraptured by. When I heard an emotionally throbbing rendition of Bloch’s Avodah played by young Yehudi Menuhin, and a clip of Toscha Seidel’s sizzling and sensuous rendition of the Garden Scene in the Korngold piece, I immediately scoured for the scores. Avodah by Bloch is a Yom Kipppur melody, a solemn and spiritual introspective piece. Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite is an incidental piece to the same play by Shakespeare. Each movement depicts a scene, as each title suggests, and the third movement, Garden Scene, is the epitome of a “wearing-your-heart-on-your-sleeve” kind of piece, constantly changing between endearment and sensuality.
Paul Huang: Danbi and I will join together for the second part of the program, first with a sonata by Ysaye for two violins. Ysaye, a great master violinist himself, clearly knew the possibilities of the violin and was able to capture the essence of the instrument. What is so great about this piece is that he amplified this for two violins, with eight strings! We also wanted to convey the soulful quality of the violin so we decided to add a very soul-searching piece by Amy Barlowe called Hebrew Elegy for Two Violins. To finish off the program, we can’t help but to bring back our favorite piece, the Navarra by Sarasate. We hope to send a strong and positive message to the audience at the end of the concert, tunes which people can still remember walking out of the hall (or signing off the computer!).
Danbi, what did you learn about yourself and your playing during the past year in lockdown?
I think while the pandemic has affected all of us in various ways, I must say that it also helped us reflect and examine what is actually important in life. Music has become ever more important in our lives and the desire of communicating through music is even stronger.
That being said, the idea of having some kind of routine in life has not existed in us since graduating from college. We have been always on the road playing concerts and going to the next destination, so having a steady schedule, learning for the sake of learning, and not worrying about deadlines is also refreshing and invigorating.
Paul, do you feel that streamed concerts will remain a part of life even after things go back to “normal?”
No, I don't believe so. Streaming concerts will always have its limitations. A live performance will never be replaced by any form. The essence of music is to bring people together and to share something hopefully meaningful and special in that same time and space. While streaming concerts is a convenient way of bringing music to people, there will always be a strong desire to go to live performances, and I anticipate that desire will be even more strong than in the past.
Have you played for North Shore Chamber Music Festival before; how did you become part of their line-up?
Paul Huang: I haven’t officially played at North Shore Chamber Music Festival before, but have been friends with Vadim and Angela for several years now. So I’m looking forward to this!
Danbi Um: I have played at North Shore a couple of times in the last seven years. I knew Vadim for four years prior to that, and he was gracious enough to take the risk of inviting me. I have always been a fanatic admirer of his playing from the first time I saw him perform, so let me just say that I was more than a wee bit excited when I was invited to come to the festival.