Violinist Soovin Kim and pianist Gloria Chien, artistic directors of the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, like most other musicians, are returning to the stage after a year-long hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They recently had a chance to get used to performing live again ahead of their Vermont festival, Aug. 21-29, with four weeks of gigs at Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, Oregon, where they also serve as artistic directors.
“In fact, even before what the performance was, the first rehearsal was shocking,” Kim said. “Our first rehearsal was with the ECCO (East Coast Chamber Orchestra), and we were doing Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto (in D minor for piano, violin and strings). And having so many sounds all around you all at once was so overwhelming – both jarring and so complicated to hear your sound in the middle of it all.
“On the other hand, the sound was so wonderful,” Kim said. “It was really wonderful how tangible it was, how physically tangible it was, and it was a wonderful thing to experience. I realized how all of us who are lucky enough to play a lot and attending many concerts, we took that a bit for granted.
“It was very emotional for the musicians and the audience members,” Kim said. “I expected that from audience members, but I underestimated that for musicians.”
The LCCMF 2021 “Epiphanies” program, originally scheduled for 2020, is an exploration of composers and compositions that have been influenced by significant life events. Highlights include extraordinary pieces such as Smetana’s Piano Trio and Schubert’s ‘Cello’ Quintet, songs from Schumann’s ‘Year of Song’ and Marc Neikrug’s new chamber opera ‘A Song by Mahler’ .
Five in-person concerts are planned, plus two recitals and four Inside Pitch Series talks. The LCCMF Young Artist Quartet will work on Bartók’s String Quartet No. 1 in masterclasses with cellist Marcy Rosen and violist Misha Amory, and perform it in a free recital at the end of the week.
Kim, the founder of LCCMF, began his musical career with the Vermont Youth Orchestra. He went to the Cleveland Institute of Music and Curtis, studying with Jaime Laredo, winning the international Niccolò Paganini competition, performing concerts around the world, and settling with Chen, his wife, in Boston.
“A Song by Mahler” by Neikrug, an LCCMF co-commission, tells the story of a famous concert singer who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and baritone Kelly Markgraf are joined by clarinetist David Shifrin and the FLUX Quartet.
“She and her husband come to a deeper understanding of their love through their music,” Kim said. “Before I even heard it, I knew from the story and the libretto that it was going to be deeply moving.”
The work has already been performed this summer at Chamber Music Northwest, another of the four co-curators.
“Everyone I spoke to found it so interesting and moving,” Kim said. “Lake Champlain will be the fourth performance of the summer.”
Kim cites end-of-life works as another highlight. Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” will be performed by soprano Arianna Zuckerman with Chen on piano on August 21, and for Franz Schubert’s “Cello” quintet, the Parker will be joined by cellist Marcy Rosen on August 22.
“Not all composers’ works take on the kind of dimension these two do,” Kim said. “It’s like when people can see the other side and convey it in their music before they leave our Earth. It’s very, very special.
Kim looks forward to some of her own performances, starting with Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Trio in G major, joining the Strauss on the opening program on August 21.
“It doesn’t really fit our theme,” Kim said. “It happens to be a pleasantly wonderful piece that we think would kick off the festival. I learned all those Beethoven trios with (Guarneri Quartet violist) Michael Tree. it’s impossible to ever, ever play or hear these tracks without his mind taking over the whole work, hearing his sound in my ear.
A more unusual favorite is Anglo-African composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet on August 28.
“I’m not a person who believes that every piece lost to the world is worth bringing back,” Kim said. “However, when I heard this I knew it would remain in our standard clarinet quintet repertoire. It was an early work, apparently written in response to Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet.
“Structurally it’s not mature,” Kim said. “It would have been wonderful to see him write a play like this 40 years later, like Brahms did. It’s maybe a bit like the very first Brahms.
“It’s also David Shifrin’s first time playing it, which is really exciting,” Kim said.
Robert Whipple, the new Executive Director of the LCCMF, says: “Know that we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety, health and comfort of our performers and audiences. This will include a reduced-capacity audience at the Elley-Long Music Center and other venues. Due to restrictions in our venues, we now require all attendees to LCCMF concerts to wear a mask. »
The music – musicians and audience – will never be the same after the lost year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whether it’s for us as performers or for audience members, everyone has realized how essential this is – what we do,” Kim said.