As this moment in time brings our country and our globe to its knees, all of us are adjusting to a new, hopefully temporary, normal. For so many of us, life has gone from 1000mph to 0mph, nearly overnight. With artists from coast-to-coast without work, small business owners facing bankruptcy, children without school meals, and those on the front lines enduring heartbreak and frustration, perhaps the only thing to do is lean into the goodness of silver linings and find small ways to help.
So, this is my new project: sewing CDC-approved masks for medical staff at local hospitals. I’m an entirely novice seamstress (up until this point I hadn’t sewn more than a hem or button), but this opportunity has been my silver lining to learn a new skill that can be put to use for those in need. If anyone reading this is interested in joining the “sewing army,” click here to get information on the pattern and delivery locations.
I’m lucky to be home, hunkering with my parents in a warm home with plenty of food and music to fill the air. As mama and I become whizzes at giving lessons and studio classes on Zoom, papa and I work on building a garage bouldering wall (my other new obsession with rock climbing has created a crazy home project), and each morning is filled with lots of sewing, there is much gratitude to be felt. Siestas have become a daily occurrence, happy hour seems to start a bit earlier each afternoon, and an appreciation for the little things has become large.
And, if anyone would like a break from the news stream and wants to escape into Ariana-land for a few moments, below is a musical hug – a little solo Bach as meditation (please excuse the lo-fi, iPhone mic situation – I’m a tech simpleton), and a photo diary of my last couple of months. Last is a stunning poem by Pablo Neruda – here’s to better days ahead:
With love, a poem by Pablo Neruda:
Ode to Hope
at the center
of my life,
waves like grapes,
the sky’s solitude,
you fill me
the complete sea,
the undiminished sky,
sea foam’s white
the orange earth,
gifts and talents,
birds soaring into their dreams,
and the sea, the sea,
chorus of rich, resonant salt,
touch the water,
we touch the sea,
And the waves tell the firm coast:
‘Everything will be fulfilled.’
2020’s arrival has come and gone, and it feels like the last couple of months have flown by with such speed that they melted together in some sort of Dali-esque landscape. Speaking of melting, it’s 96 degrees here in Bangkok. I’m finishing up a beautiful residency of master classes and recital featuring the world premiere of a new multimedia piece by Cornell DMA composer Piyawat Louilarpprassert at the P. Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music. I’m dipping my toe (probably just one of them for now) into the world of my new looper pedal and will do a little premiere of that dippage tonight as well…and it’s with this at hand that I took a moment to reflect on life since I last posted here.
I can’t resist starting this entry with these two pics – I arrived two days early in Bangkok in order to take a trip to an elephant sanctuary in Western Thailand where people help care for elephants rescued from logging and circus training abuse…elephants have long been my spirit animal, but getting to be with them in this way was entirely life-changing.
Late October was a Ne(x)tworks farewell inside a Knights sandwich. My beloved new music ensemble, Ne(x)tworks (of which I was a member for 10 years, from 2005-2015) hung up its hat for good and bid farewell with a reunion concert at Issue Project Room, complete with an installation of Cage’s Song Books, some Cornelius Cardew, Jon Gibson, and works by the brilliant composer-performers from within the group. It was a blast to be back together, and a beautiful send-off complete with members and guests past-and-present. The Knights were also in full-swing that week, working on a project combining dance + live music with BalletCollective at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center down in DUMBO. My MetroCard got a hard workout during that stretch for sure.
Back up to Cornell I went to see my brilliant students and take in the first ice storm of the season. It was then a game of Ithaca-Minneapolis tag with a CMSM concert plus a recital of the full Brahms violin sonata cycle with pianist Kyung Kim and jumping back east to teach in-between. Oh yea, and we managed to throw my dad a surprise retirement party somewhere in there too! Good thing I’ve sold my soul to Delta…
With Thanksgiving somewhere in the middle, The Knights hit the road with a tour of Hunter, Washington, D.C., Montreal, and NYC in a special program entitled “Homage to Bach” during which each member of the small group stepped forward to play movements of solo Bach and/or duos, trios, and quartets by those he inspired. The concert at the Montreal Bach Festival was particularly memorable, especially considering the ridiculous number of Fairmount bagels I ate after the show (don’t worry, New York, my loyalty still lies with you)…
My students gave a killer recital at Ithaca’s Carriage House (my favorite place to play up there, no doubt) to close out the semester and then it was off to California for my annual volunteer trip to work with Scott Krijnen’s kiddos at Castillero Middle. Lucky for me, there was an explosion of little cherubs born to those near and dear to me just before I departed, so I got lots of baby time after work each day.
Christmas was a lovely family affair complete with tons of cooking and even more eating (though my lame immune system gave out and I fought the flu for most of it). Then it was off to New Year’s Eve in Seoul with my cousins, Bangkok for this residency, and tomorrow I fly south to Sydney to celebrate a dear childhood friend Alice’s nuptials down under…a bluegrass show back in Ithaca in a few days feels half a world away. Literally.
The soggy leaves and muted raindrops on my backyard deck here in the quiet upstate New York countryside are providing a peaceful, perhaps melancholic backdrop for the writing of this overdue post. It’s hard to believe that we’re already more than halfway through our fall semester, though the ripe apples at Cornell Orchards and and the delicious roasted squash at Bethe House dinners are a good giveaway…
As I finally recover from a rather brutal summer (my feeling is that shingles plus a bedbug infestation while nursing a broken heart should be against the laws of nature), I’ve been delighted to look back on the artistic joys that pulled me through it all.
August began with a return to my beloved PACO Camp where a team of faculty usher nearly 90 brilliant, bright-eyed teenagers through the wonderful world of string quartets. From there it was off to Italy for my first summer as co-director of the Paesaggi Musicali Toscani festival in Siena. I was honored to play two concertos – Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas(arr. Desyatnikov) and the European premiere of Jorge Grossman’s Mosoq – under the Tuscan moon to a sold-out crowd for opening night. A few days later, a three-hour drive to Rome, a nine-hour flight to Detroit, a 90-minute flight to Minneapolis, a 45-minute flight to Duluth and finally an hour in the car brought me to NLCMI 2019 up in Minnesota’s untouched Boundary Waters. Playing and coaching chamber music on Lake Vermilion amongst family and friends is pretty much the best life has to offer.
September started with a bang as my studio settled into their groove – five fantastic new freshman have joined the crew and they’re doing a bang-up job. My new bluegrass “band,” (a generous use of the word) String Theory did some fabulously fun gigs at the Fall Friends of Stewart Park Festival and La Tourelle. I was tickled to learn a bunch of new tunes and fiddle my way back to childhood alongside Ithaca’s finest folk musicians. The next week, shoe-shine bowings gave way to Schubert bowings, and I headed to Minneapolis for the CMSM‘s first concert of the year, celebrating Tony Ross’s 60th birthday with Schubert’s monumental cello quintet. Just a few days later our entire family and so many friends found ourselves out in the Bay for my little brother’s wedding! It was a beautiful weekend filled with laughter, tears, dancing, a video montage, great food, and deeply special music – plus a surprise baby shower for dear cousin Yoonie. Congratulations, Nathan and Natali!
And here we are in October, which started with another family wedding, this time for cousin Andrea and her new hubby Rob. The rainy day brought good luck upon the couple and we closed the night with an Italian feast – evviva gli sposi, Mr. & Mrs. Glass! After a swing back to NYC for another dive into the world of Indian classical Carnatic violin-ing with my teacher Arun Ramamurthy, I headed back up to Ithaca for a some whirlwind teaching and meetings. Just a few days later, I found myself at Bucknell University for a wonderful weekend of master classes, rehearsals, and a recording of Dan Temkin‘s gorgeous piano trio, Flow which we will perform live with Bucknell Dance later this year. Tomorrow it’s down to the City for a week of Knights camp to inaugurate our 19-20 season alongside BalletCollective plus a reunion of the whole Ne(x)tworks gang for a “then & now” retrospective to bid farewell to the group, of which I was a part for 10 years, as past and present members take the stage together one last time.
Amidst this sweltering summer, it is with a heavy heart that I share the bittersweet news that I will be stepping down from the Aizuri Quartet. It has been three incredible years complete with many hours on the road, intense rehearsals, master classes, and wonderful collaborations, not to mention a Gold Medal at the 2017 Osaka Competition, the 2018 M-Prize, a residency at the MET Museum, and a trip to the 2019 Grammys this past February. With the group wanting to move toward full-time-land, a new promotion at Cornell and two new co-artistic directorships for me, there comes a time when life only allows for so much…
We performed our last concert together on the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota’s season finale, and though an evening of many emotions, the performance was something quite magical for me. Though this is a closing of one chapter, there are new ones to be read, and I wish the other three gals the best as they move forward. Below is a link to videos of that concert…
Post-Tuscany brought about a super special trip, a nostalgia tour of sorts, to celebrate my mom’s birthday. With brother Nathan getting married this fall, we took one more “pentagon” getaway, this time back to our old stomping grounds in Sandpoint, Idaho. This sacred spot was home to Gunther Schuller‘s Festival at Sandpoint Institute, where my dad headed up the chamber music division. We moved out to Mt. Schweitzer every summer to tag along, attend fiddle camp, hike the mountains, swim in Lake Pend Oreille and eat tons of huckleberries. This trip, nearly 20 years later, was a revisiting and recreating of nearly all of those activities (minus the huckleberries…it was too early in the season for those puppies)…
Back in New York, The Knights had a couple of wonderful Mendelssohn octet concerts, one at our home base in Brooklyn and the second at Temple Emanu-El – one of the most stunning edifices in all of New York City. It was an honor and rite of passage to perform in such a special space. Following that concert I had an Ariana-and-Alma day complete with our annual shopping trip to the Crocs store and some New York pizza by the slice. A performance at my former student HaeSoo and her new hubby Jonathan’s wedding (man I’m getting old if my students are getting married!) took me straight up to the start of my summer festival hopping – first stop, the Crowden Music Center in Berkeley! My darling groups performed some Mendelssohn and Schubert to be admired, and it was a total privilege to be back alongside my Bay Area colleagues teaching at such a fantastic place. Next stop, Santa Cruz for my umpteenth PACO Camp, and then concertos by Piazzolla and Jorge Grossman with the Milano Classica chamber orchestra in Tuscany!
When the warm waves of spring and summer finally rolled in, the whole Kim clan had convened in beautiful Princeton to celebrate our dear Hae-An Chyun and Steve Colella’s nuptials. Everything from the Korean bowing ceremony 폐백 to the weather and each detail put in place by the beautiful couple brought joy, grace, and togetherness.
After a giant post-wedding Mother’s Day feast that ended with a first-generation group nap on the floor (picture a mass of happily food coma-ed 30-somethings sprawled on a bamboo floor), it was back to the City for me – the Aizuris and distinguished guests brought to life Michi Wiancko‘s first chamber opera, Murasaki’s Moon at the MET Museum. Working with OnSite Opera and the three singers Kristen Choi, Martin Bakari and John Noh was something I’ll cherish for years to come. A brief hang with some NYC friends and then to Minnesota I went to give a super cool recital featuring Steve Heitzeg‘s Lake Stone Moon at the St. Paul Patagonia in honor of their “Save the Boundary Waters” campaign.
It was then up to Cornell for our end-of-year festivities – faculty recognition events, student recitals and graduation. My honey and I managed something I’ve been dreaming of since the first signs of Ithaca snowmelt were upon us – a hike through Treman Park complete with swimming hole dips and waterfall baths. And, if that wasn’t beautiful enough, I jumped a flight to Rome to begin my work as Co-Artistic Director of the Paesaggi Musicali Toscani festival in Siena. A couple of Italian-style work days (I had forgotten the beauty of wine with lunch) later, I found myself visiting old friends and taking in some of the most exquisite food on the planet. The pillowy ricotta gnocchi at Perillá literally brought quiet, honest tears to my eyes…
Taking a moment to breathe out on the gorgeous water at the Deleware Water Gap, I looked back on the last month, realizing how deeply complex life can be – and perhaps it is that complexity that gives meaning to each chapter. And then, a frosty river plunge. I thought of the far-too-early passing of a dear family friend, Takuzo Ishida – husband, father, chemist, bonsai master, carpenter, long-time CMSM Board member and, just last year, a recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, one of Japan’s highest honors. His life was one of kindness, generosity, integrity, excellence, and joy. With blessings, may you Rest in Peace, Takuzosan.
With the quartet off for the past month, April was wonderful whirlwind of special performance experiences, projects, and teaching. Now in early May (how did that happen so fast?), we waved goodbye yesterday to the end of the semester here at Cornell, said hello to Slope Day, and ushered in the beginning of summer.
I had the great joy and honor of putting together a program of the Ruth Crawford Seeger sonata, Heifetz’s arrangements of a few Porgytunes, and then the Dvorak quintet with my dear friend and long-time duo partner, Ieva Jokubaviciute on our most recent CMSM concert. Her darling daughter and my unofficial goddaughter Alma came long for the tour, and my heart was so full spending time with her. She even gave us an impromptu concert of her entree into Suzuki Book 2 – life kinda doesn’t get better than that. Following the CMSM concert I had a chance to do some outreach volunteer visits to two of my favorite Twin Cities elementary schools – Blake and Valley Crossing – such fantastic kiddos!
After Minneapolis it was time to head back to Cornell to prep my annual faculty solo recital, entitled “Song and Dance Come Forth” which featured works for solo violin and viola + 1 written for, inspired by, or adapted from song and dance. A special tribute to John Harbison, now celebrating his 80th year followed some Bach baroque dances, followed by Brahms’ G Major sonata and some bluegrass tunes – heading back to my childhood roots at fiddle camp in Northern Idaho…
Speaking of those childhood roots at fiddle camp in Sandpoint (a charming town near the Canadian border) where my father taught each summer at Gunther Schuller’s jazz and chamber music festival, I got to dive hard into the rich and inspiring folk music scene in Ithaca at the Friends of Stewart Park benefit concert. Sharing the stage with local legends in a program curated by Rick Manning – brilliant landscape architect, engaged citizen and bluegrass-er – we fiddled, strummed, plucked, stomped, and sang our way through the night at La Tourelle to fundraise for this fabulous organization.
Then it was off to Florida for a quick getaway to celebrate my cousin Hae-An’s pre-wedding weekend, a 36-hour trip out to the Bay for the Crowden Music Center‘s benefit and some surprise volunteer work at Castillero Middle, and then back to Cornell for our end-of-year student performances. My students gave their showcase solo recital on Monday and they blew me away – committed, thoughtful, and commanding performances. With an unexpected day off, I went down for a moment with my honey, on the Deleware River, and that brings us full circle.
Coming to you post-concert at Bucknell University, a short-and-sweet entry here to share some of the beautiful moments I’ve had the chance to be a part of over the last two months…
February started with a Knights camp bang, with an intensive rehearsal week in Brooklyn, a kick-off concert at Pioneer Works, and then off we went to take on Europe. Our first stop in Szczecin, Poland was one of my personal highlights (and surprisingly so) from the entire monthlong project. The concert hall there, Karlowicz Philharmonic Szczecin is one of the most enjoyable spaces – both in terms of physical beauty and acoustics – to play in. There was a magic that the group was able to find on stage that somehow got sent in a collective, artistic wave, out into the audience. I had a few deeply spiritual moments thinking of dear Stan “Bear” Skrowaczewski, who passed two years ago, wondering if he ever graced the podium on that stage…
From there it was a crazy 20-hour journey from a Polish Flixbus to the Berlin and Paris airports for a 36-hours-on-the-ground moment in Los Angeles to catch the GRAMMY® Awards. What an experience it was – something I never imagined being a part of my life, but alas, there we were. From the excitement at the Premiere Ceremony (that’s the one where the really cool musicians are – it’s in fact too cool for telecast), being surrounded by such incredible artists to walking the red carpet and taking in the juggernaut that is the GRAMMY® Telecast, it was indeed unforgettable. Perhaps the two best moments of that whirlwind trip however, were 1) family time with my fabulous LA aunties, uncles, cousins and grandparents, and 2) hitting the red carpet with my fabulous parents as my “date” to the event…
After hitting up my favorite soondooboo restaurant on my way back to LAX, it was back to Europe for concerts in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Having the chance to play in arguably the two best halls in the world – the Elbphilarmonie in Hamburg and the Musikverein in Vienna was entirely inspiring. Avi Avital, our brilliant guest mandolinist on tour, brought the house down night after night, and we delighted in programs from Vivaldi, Bach and Beethoven to new works by Thomas Adés, Arvo Pärt, and our very own Colin Jacobsen and Christina Courtin. After multiple long-haul flights and countless hours on the tour bus, a huge debt of gratitude to Francisco Dasta who came up from Italy to be our on-location masseur!
A long journey back from Munich to Ithaca, I was elated to say hello to my house once again and to be back in my Cornell office with my students (many thanks to my incredible adjuncts who so expertly looked after my studio while I was away!). Another blizzard or two later, it was down to NYC and out to DC for some Aizuri Quartet concerts (here’s to the incredible vision of the Boulanger Initiative!), and now off to the Intricate Machines tour, organized by the two ultra creative composers Daniel Temkin and Phil Taylor.
And most importantly, my favorite moment of the season – the lake by my house, thawing for the first time in the spring sunlight, the ripples on the surface of the water glistening like aspen leaves in the wind…
It’s a relatively quiet morning at the Schiphol Airport – an airport that I have a strange fondness for, it having been where I spent an unexpected but wonderfully adventurous 17-hour layover back in my teenage days – as I sit with the BBC to my right and an espresso machine gurgling to my left. Another long stretch has passed since I’ve written here, and there is much to share, so I won’t dilly-dally any longer (except to say I’m already dreaming of the Parisian croissant that awaits me in two days time) –
As we navigate through a time in our culture – both at home and abroad – when truth seems optional and so much appears backward, it shines a particularly radiant light when things go right. As I find myself exiting the most arduous 18-month stretch of my life, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for the five women who took time out of their busy lives to dive deep and set a maliciously spinning sphere back in orbit. There is still a long journey ahead as things worth fighting for are never a simple nor brief endeavor, but when things have been wrong for so long, justice – albeit interstitial for now – is powerful.
To the people who have provided the container for me to heal, for those who rebuilt my courage and strength, and the five women – representing all those doing just things in the world – I thank you. I leave you with these words from our greatest political and cultural leaders that I came across in the past months:
“It is difficult for the common good to prevail against the intense concentration of those who have a special interest, especially if the decisions are made behind locked doors.” – Jimmy Carter
“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pain to bring it to light.” – George Washington
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” – RBG
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” – Maya Angelou
And now, from stunning student recitals at Cornell amidst back-to-back blizzards up in Ithaca to family holiday time in Europe, concerts in Minneapolis and at the Lincoln Center Atrium to quartet tours in Dublin, North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont – and now, a BlueprintingGrammy nomination, I leave you here with a photo diary:
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
Next up is a European tour with The Knights with a crazy (but of course I had to) jaunt to LA for the Grammys – Poland, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – highlights will surely include concerts at the Vienna Musikverein and Hamburg Elbphilharmonie…
It has now been many months since I’ve had the wherewithal to make a new post to share with all of you – my apologies. The last 10 months have been perhaps the most difficult time of my life, and I have searched for moments that bring a glimpse of light into a sphere of darkness. I have discovered that when you find yourself surrounded by people who send out anger, immorality and dishonesty toward you in one realm, the universe sometimes sends out grace, compassion, and truth in another:
Several months ago, in a moment of overwhelming confusion and devastation, I had to board the C train at 72nd Street to head back uptown. I somehow had lost my ability to maintain composure in public and when tears began streaming down my cheeks, I sheepishly tucked myself into the corner of the subway train, hoping not to draw attention nor disturb other peoples’ commutes. I was silent in my tears, but nonetheless several people began to notice. My embarrassment grew larger than life, and short of getting off the train at a random stop or pulling the emergency cord only to prolong my journey home, I stayed on the train, wishing I could become invisible.
As New Yorkers feel the squeeze of the increasingly dysfunctional MTA, busy rush-hour commutes and crowded trains, one would expect a moment like this to bring annoyance or at least apathy. Instead, a kind woman – a perfect stranger – came up to me and said “Baby, you alright? It’s gonna be just fine, darlin – whatever it is.” She gave me a huge hug, and sat back down. At the next stop, a gentleman dressed in medical scrubs came over and said “Miss, are you ok? Is there anything I can do for you?” When I replied “No, thank you – I’m ok,” he replied, “Alright, and if you change your mind, I’ll be sitting right here.” And as we pulled into my station, an elderly woman stood next to me as I faced the doors waiting for them to open and she said “You know what you should do? Go home, take a deep breath, light a candle and say a prayer. Whatever this is it’ll be better tomorrow.” Then she hugged me too.
Three perfect strangers on a busy, packed New York subway…not in my wildest dreams would I have expected a moment like this. And in one 20-minute ride, there was suddenly light coming through my darkness, and I saw true goodness, and beauty on the New York subway. It reminded me of a passage from a gorgeous poem written by the enthralling Denice Frohman, with whom my quartet and I collaborated with at the MET a few months ago:
…the conductor interrupts, he’s sorry for the delay but we’re riding too close to the next train; a woman reaching for the pole accidentally grabs my hand, & in another world we would laugh & be lovers
& dance on the Q train,
to a power ballad or a bolero…
Perhaps this will be our evolved future =)
Thank you, Denice.
And with story time concluded, I owe you all 7 months of recaps, professional goings-on, tour photos, and memorable moments – I’ll keep my words brief and let the photos do the talking.
There is little I can write here that could possibly do justice to paying tribute to Robert Mann, my teacher, mentor and musical guru during my six years at Juilliard. Husband, father, grandfather, violinist, teacher, composer, conductor, and venerated founder of the Juilliard String Quartet – he was a truly remarkable creature. I had the great honor of seeing him and playing for him on two different occasions just days before his passing – once with my quartet and once for the Mann Family’s legendary chamber music concert/holiday party. As we say goodbye to another musical giant: with deep admiration and gratitude for all I learned from you, Rest In Peace, Bobby – you have left behind a remarkable legacy, and we will do our best to carry your torch onward.
December began with a bang, with my quartet’s Music and Isolationprogram featuring works by composers operating in different types of isolation – geographic, aural, and psychological – at the MET Museum. To hear the sounds of Carlo Gesualdo and Hildegard von Bingen (arranged by our dear friend Alex Fortes) in Gallery 534 was transportive, and we were excited to get a pretty cool review in the New York Times. Now it’s off to prepare for the third concert of our residency, this time exploring Japan Across the World (February 23 @ 7pm). From there it was a 6am flight to Minneapolis to join my dearest camrades in the Twin Cities for a program of Stravinsky chamber music including his incomparable “L’histoire du soldat,” and then back to Cornell to finish out the semester and see my students through a truly exceptional recital. I’ve rarely been so moved to hear a concert like that – my heart was so full.
Three new strings, two sleeps and one rental car later, I found myself in Philadelphia preparing for a concert with the quartet and Jonathan Biss as part of the Curtis Presents concert series – playing the Dvorak Quintet has never felt so invigorating and fresh.
From there it was off to the West Coast to volunteer with my beloved colleague Scott Krijnen and his ever inspiring orchestra classroom at Castillero Middle School. Corry’s parents, Larry and Trudy Rankin, were also able to join us again for the third time to participate in our musical goings-on and meet the young boy who now holds Corry’s cello – an honor that falls to the 8th-grade principal cellist each year. Watching Scott’s energy, demeanor, encouragement and teaching of life knowledge in that orchestra classroom is entirely magical.
Back to New York I went to enjoy a huge snow storm (snow day, baby!) from the coziness of my condo and to prep the recording of five new works that were written for and premiered by the Aizuri Quartet. I’m happy to say that the album is now officially “in the can.” From sound sculptures to melodicas, broken bow hairs to the talkback button, video crews to full takes, it was a complicated, exhausting, but wonderful adventure. A warm thank you to Oktaven Audio and Ryan Streber for their fantastic work on every level. Stay tuned…the album “drops” on New Amsterdam Records in September!
Unfortunately my entire holiday break was spent decked with some crazy strain of the flu – influenza A2 – knocked me flat and landed me in urgent care followed by 23 hours a day in bed, everyday for 8 solid days…serious bummer. I suppose an optimist might call that a forced vacation? The lovely thing, was, I was able to be at home with family and lean on them as I became strong again. Luckily I had another concert and some master classes to give in the Twin Cities later in the month, so I got to return again in a much healthier state. The annual family concert of the CMSM was so special: Bartok duos with Papa Kim in honor of Mr. Mann (we even used his old score that he left us the last time he played those in Minneapolis) to a Leopold-and-Wolfgang rivalry and Peter Child’s gorgeous new work, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” for mixed chamber ensemble and children’s chorus.
After some educational outreach visits at the Blake School,Trinity at River Ridge, and a master class at the Northern Lights School of Violin, we were greeted by another blizzard in Minnesota! It was my second unexpected but warmly welcomed snow day in just over one month. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis canceled school for nearly two full days (unheard of when I was a kid back in the day…y’all have gotten soft!). I managed to sneak out at just the right moment to catch a flight to Boston where I joined A Far Cry for their Guardians of the Groove program – and if I may say so, the group sounded quite groovy. I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and family from different convergences of life in-between our rehearsals, which was total soul food. From our last concert I hopped on a couple of puddle-jumpers to find myself back at my office doorstep ready to greet my students and hit the semester running at Cornell. This coming Friday will be my first concert of the semester on campus – Schubert’s Grand Duo on gut strings tuned down to A=430 with preeminent fortepianist, Malcolm Bilson.
2018, here we come.
As I look back over the last six weeks and realize – on a personal level – how dark things can sometimes be, I was reminded by a dear friend of a beautiful proverb:
Just when the caterpillar
Thought the world was over,
It became a butterfly.
I leave you here, as always, with a little photo diary of my goings-on and shenanigans over the last couple of months.
The Twin Cities bid farewell to a gentle giant on October 22, 2017. Ed Volker, the owner of our beloved hometown music shop, House of Note, passed peacefully in his daughter’s home surrounded by family and left behind a beautiful legacy of generosity and integrity. A dear friend and advocate for Minnesota performing arts, Ed will be remembered for his wit, warmth, and always making the little ones who came in for their violin rental sizings smile. Rest In Peace, Dear Ed!
I sit to write this in the dressing room of Toppan Hall in Tokyo as our quartet tour draws to a close. Looking back on the last 19 days in Japan – 9 recitals, 1 outreach concert, 2 entirely perfect tour managers, and my 3 quartet sisters – it’s truly something for which to give thanks…
October at Cornell was filled with excited prospective students coming to visit campus. One of my favorite things is to see the enthusiasm in a young high school senior’s eyes as they begin to contemplate that next huge leap in life, discovering what path would be right for them. Trial lessons and coaching observations went alongside my usual teaching schedule as my current students continued to amaze; we’re just now 2 weeks from our fall solo recital.
I hopped a flight to Minneapolis for our 2017-18 Chamber Music Society of Minnesota season opener with the incomparable Nobuko Imai. Playing my first Brahms Op. 111 (albeit totally ill with the flu) was intoxicating – there are few greater works of string chamber music out there. This concert was particularly special as we got to pull together a surprise for our dear Sally Chisholm, a core member and viola extraordinaire of the CMSM for the past 24 years. A little birdie told us that she would be celebrating her big 7-0 and unbeknownst to her, Miss Nobuko hand-carried a Japanese piñata from Tokyo (via Amsterdam and Geneva no less), brother Daniel (her former student from UW-Madison) flew in from Boston, and we put together a collection of three of the Twin Cities’ finest violists (Maiya Papach, Becca Albers and Dave Auerbach) who performed a “birthday suite” to honor Miss Sally.
It was then back to Ithaca with weekends in NYC as the quartet prepped for our first of five concerts as the Artists-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum. The title of the performance, “Music and Mayhem” took us on a journey through composers who wrote during or in honor of times of war, political upheaval and cultural oppression. Sofia Gubaidulina’s fourth quartet, Steve Reich’s Different Trainsand Beethoven’s Op. 74 quartet Harp brought us from one side of the globe to the other via three very different time periods in modern history. It was an unforgettable evening filled with pickup microphones, colored stage lighting coordinated with each bar of the Gubaidulina, quarter tones, super balls, and the mesmerizing power of Beethoven at the peak of his Middle Period. ‘Twas a total joy to present all of that to a young, enthusiastic audience on one of New York’s finest stages.
After a week of double-up lessons and listening to dozens of auditions back at Cornell, it was off to Japan I went with my Aizuri sisters to embark on our Grand Prix tour. From Takaoka to Kyushu, Kunisaki to Kumamoto, Osaka to Tottori, Hiroshima to Tsu and then Yokohama and Tokyo, it was a beautiful whirlwind. One of the most special memories I will carry with me was the outreach concert we gave at Shobara Junior High School in Hiroshima. The students, dressed so finely in their uniforms, sat with wonderment and great respect as we presented our program. Their questions were thoughtful, their responses were poignant, and the most beautiful moment came at the conclusion of our presentation when a young girl from the back of the auditorium came up to deliver a thank-you message — delivered first in Japanese and then in perfect English — so that Karen and I wouldn’t be left behind. It brought tears to all of our eyes.
The hospitality of all of the venues, the Japan Chamber Music Foundation and our two killer tour managers who were literally with us every step of the way – Takusan and Yanagisan – exceeded my wildest expectations of how a tour can be. The generosity and warmth we felt from the audiences, the fabulous food Japan has to offer, and the chance to live and breathe as a quartet 24/7 for nearly 3 weeks was a beautiful combination. Although the schedule was rather packed (with Japanese-style organization and precision, no less), we even had time to experience a few moments “off the clock.” As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so as always, I leave you here with a photo diary from the last 2 months.
On a personal note, the last few weeks have been difficult and mystifying in many ways for me; I’ve come to realize, more than ever, that sometimes there is no better way to overcome a troubled spirit than to lose yourself in great music. Happy Thanksgiving — signing off from Tokyo…
On this bizarrely warm day here at Cornell (the temperature on campus hit 90 degrees this afternoon!) I take a moment to reflect back on the last two months of music and life. At a time when our dear Mother Earth is bursting at the seams bringing so much devastation to our hemisphere, I find myself counting every blessing everyday. At a time when we are faced with such a barrage of hideous vitriol coming from our White House – albeit rarely shocking anymore – I find myself burrowing even more deeply into my craft. In this last several weeks, my emotional life has been sustained by family, friends and a lot of Brahms.
Below, a sea of faculty and students who gathered on Cornell’s Arts Quad for a rally in support of inclusive diversity earlier today:
When I last left off, I was about to welcome my parents to New York for a glorious 4 days of staycation. To celebrate the completion of my tenure file, we took long walks in Central Park, took a mini road trip to visit family Princeton, then to Greenwich Point Park in Connecticut, and then up to Tanglewood to see my kid bro and the BSO in action. I can’t think of a better way to spend a rare 4 days off =). I then headed back out to the Bay for my 17th year teaching at PACO – a magical place set in the forests of Santa Cruz where we immerse ourselves in the land of teaching and playing chamber music from dusk til dawn.
I touched down at JFK at nearly 1am only to be reminded that the following morning’s alarm would ring at 7am to call me down to 60 Centre Street…yes indeed, jury duty. By some stroke of luck, I only had to serve 1.5 days and was not called onto a case, and alas I am now in the clear until 2023 (phew!). After a quick trip up north to prune the garden, sweep the back patio and get a few estimates on driveway paving (it’s always something, right?), I hopped on a flight to Minnesota where I joined the NLCMI team for the 13th year. Another magical chamber music camp set up in the Boundary Waters, we begin and end the day with condcutorless chamber orchestra rehearsals with hours of Mendelssohn, Bartok, Schoenberg, Haydn, Grazyna Bacewicz, canoeing and s’mores in between.
To the Duluth airport I went to hop a flight or two to join The Knights for our annual performance at the Ravinia Festival. Joined by the incomparable Susan Graham, we presented a program of Adams, Mozart, and Canteloube. It was then O’Hare to Rome where I jumped on a few trains to begin a recital tour in Tuscany. The combination of being back amid the rolling hills of Val d’Orcia making music, drinking divine wines and eating mind-blowingly delicious food was totally sublime. Through programs of Janacek, Brahms, Ravel, Paganini and Elliott Carter, my pianists (Todd Crow and Pietro Bonfilio) and I danced our way into the halls of Paesaggi Musicali Toscani and Morellino Classica.
From Siena to Ithaca I went to start up the school year at Cornell. I welcomed my studio of fabulous students back to campus as we hit the ground running with studio meetings, lessons and coachings. Guest lectures in Elements of Music 1101 and Design & Environmental Analysis 1200 allowed me to meet an entirely new cross-section of students, something by which I am always so inspired. A return to my favorite thing about Cornell, Wednesday nights at Hans Bethe House, brought hugs, smiles, and so many wonderful friends and colleagues with whom to catch up.
After a quick 36-hour trip to LA for my beautiful cousin Yoonie’s wedding, I headed to Philly for a week to premiere Lembit Beecher’s haunting and brilliant chamber opera (written for the Aizuri Quartet and a small cast of singers), Sophia’s Forest.Set in the 1990s, the work tells the story of half-forgotten memories and tragedy in the wake of fleeing war-torn Serbo-Croatia; mechanized sound sculptures created by Lembit and a team of engineers from Drexel and Princeton created the soundscape of the haunting forest. It was an honor to bring this work to life.
Returning to Ithaca to catch one of my favorite satirist-comedians Trevor Noah – and accidentally meeting him in person (hashtag fangirl) – in a live standup show at Cornell was a total dream come true. And that brings us to the present…I head down to the City tomorrow to start the lead-up for the quartet’s upcoming residency at the MET Museum – Music and Mayhem on October 21st is up first, featuring quartets by Gubaidulina, Reich, and Beethoven!
And as always, I leave you with a photo diary below.
I must say it was rather anti-climactic: the tenure submission portfolio was completed. After years of mental and professional preparation and months of writing, editing, vetting and re-writing, my 517-page portfolio was complete! The four 3-inch binders of programs, press articles and reviews could have served as bench pressing weights, and the written documents on my vision as an artist, philosophies on teaching, advising and volunteerism felt like I was writing a thesis, only the subject was myself (face palm). When I finally hit the “submit” button for the very last document for the last time, I thought it would have felt more glorious and that perhaps a ticker-tape parade might have spontaneously erupted in the Delta Sky Club where I sat to submit the final docs…but alas, no such luck. However, I am fortunate to have something even better: a few rare pockets of vacation time to spend with dear friends and family in-between summer touring. What better way to celebrate?
I last left this blog post shortly after Cornell’s 2017 graduation ceremonies and since then, life has been rich with experiences and full of travels and touring. From hot and sweaty summer days in New York to epic thunderstorms in New Hampshire, warm morning jogs in D.C., sunshine and ice cream in Virginia, cool daytime hikes and stunning waterfalls in Ithaca to the breezy Berkeley Bay, my suitcase has gotten a fantastic workout this last two months.
As soon as I got back to the City I jumped into one of the coolest touring endeavors ever – Yellow Barn’s Music Haul. The brainchild of director Seth Knopp, Music Haul is a concert-series-meets-food-truck idea where a converted commercial truck converts into a stage to present mobile concerts to street and park crowds throughout the country. It was a thrill to be a part of the truck’s maiden voyage to NYC with performances of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Jay Treuting’s Oblique Music and Robert Mann’s Invocation with other YB alums on the streets of Brooklyn and at Union Square. The JACK Quartet, Gil Kalish and SO Percussion were just a few of the amazing artists with whom we shared the stage.
Early June brought the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota’s season finale with the great jazz pianist Kenny Werner; I put my rather rusty jazz chops to the test with some of his beautiful original compositions and a couple of old standards. What a joy it was to explore taking solos and comping with such a legend. After a crazy cool project with Lembit Beecher in Washington, D.C. preparing his chamber opera Sophia’s Forestwhich will receive its complete premiere in Philly this coming September, the quartet headed to Avaloch Farm for a 10-day residency of preparations for our exciting season ahead. On the docket was putting on the burner Beethoven Harp, Steve Reich Different Trains, Gubaidulina’s fourth quartet, Haydn Op. 20/2 alongside admin meetings, calendar discussions, and workshops on keeping our sisterhood healthy and strong.
From there it was back to Ithaca to climb into the rabbit hole of tenure preparation. My oh-too-giddy reunion with my architect’s rotary paper cutter brought me back to my arts and crafts days, taking out staples of programs and playbills and trimming newspaper clippings for the performance dossier. After six readers and countless drafts, the personal statement, extended CV and dossier overview documents were ready for submission, and from here on out, it’s just a waiting game while my file climbs the 7 rungs of Ivy evaluation…fingers crossed, I’ll share the news when June 2018 arrives!
A quick celebratory weekend followed with a visit to see my dearest Ieva and her incredible daughter (and my BFF, of course) Alma. Together with Chris (husband and papa) we packed boxes for their upcoming move, visited their gorgeous community pool, and had a Maryland crab feast! As I returned to NYC for a night, I repacked my bags for a 2-week tour out to Berkeley where I was teaching and performing at a fantastic festival/workshop at the Crowden Music Center. Working with the students there is one of the highlights of my year, and director Eugene Sor brings together a collection of esteemed faculty who also happen to be fabulous human beings that it makes for two of the most joyful and rewarding weeks of the season.
With a quick 2-day jaunt to LA in-between our weeks at Crowden to see my aunt, uncle and help with my beautiful cousin Yoonie’s wedding, was made complete with a trip to pay respects to my grandparents. After the invitations, thank-you cards and address labels were designed and ordered, we feasted together and I jetted back up to Berkeley for Crowden week 2. After a 3:45am alarm, I hopped on a flight back to JFK, landed to retrieve my car who had been happily long-term parked and worked on a 2-day spackling-and-painting job on all 5 floors of our condo building up here on 149th Street! It was a sweaty job, but so rewarding! And, I am now about to embark on a 3-day staycation with my amazing parents…off the grid I go!
On a cool and rainy night here in New York City I write this blog post to share with all the goings-on of my musical world over the last two months. There is much to catch up on, so without further ado:
I will begin by sharing the lovely news that my quartet and I won the gold medal at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition, a triennial affair that brings ensembles from across the globe together on one stage in southern Japan. As I didn’t grow up in the world of musical competitions or contests, this was a relatively new experience for me, and what a wild ride it was. We performed four complete programs of quartets by Mozart, Janacek, Berg, Schumann, Akira Nishimura, Paul Wiancko, and Beethoven in their entireties. Following the fourth and final round, we were elated to be named the winner and closed the tour with two concerts in Osaka and Tokyo. The staff, logistics, hospitality and organization could not have been more perfect — everything down to our chair and stand height was thought of and taken care of with kindness and ninja-like precision. The contest aside, for me the most moving and important element of our travels to Japan was the fact that we were able to perform for Ayane’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kozasa, who heard us live for the very first time.
Click here to listen to our live performances! (For Round 1, we begin at 1:08)
I’ll rewind to where we left off after my last post, which was just before I embarked on a 3-week tour of New York, France, and Germany with The Knights. Kicking things off with two concerts in Brooklyn, the band then flew across the pond for chamber music and chamber orchestra performances at festivals in Aix-en-Provence (where the lavender is most famous), Friedrichshafen, Heidelberg, and Hamburg. From the Schnittke two-violin duo to a Stravinsky quartet to the Reich double violin concerto to the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, it was a rich and jam-packed trip!
Perhaps the most glorious moment for me was playing the Reich double concerto (with my long-time partner-in-crime Guillaume Pirard) in Heidelberg’s Kongresshaus Stadthalle — one of the most beautiful acoustics I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The breathtaking views of Lake Constance in Friedrichshafen, crisp blue skies filled with the fragrance of lavender in Aix, and delicious cheeses in Heidelberg made added sprinkles of joy and beauty throughout the trip.
I returned to Cornell directly from Germany to hit the ground running with rehearsals for the U.S. presentation of my CCA Biennial project from last year’s work in Italy, Le storie di vita nel legno. The evening featured the performance of two new trios by Can Bilir, the exhibition of the refugee-created mural — which had been shipped from Italy and rebuilt at Cornell — and the premiere of our documentary that we made on the project itself last year in Brescia. Despite an epic computer disaster that I experienced while on the road in France, I managed to refinish the final edits of the documentary just in time for the debut! It was so powerful to bring this project full circle; I remain indebted to and inspired by the men of Cooperative Selene with whom I worked to build cultural bridges through the arts during my time in Italy last year.
The very next day brought my annual faculty recital, this year with Italian pianist Pietro Bonfilio. We presented a program of Steve Heitzeg, Janacek, Kabalevsky and Brahms in the Carriage House Hayloft (my favorite spot to play in Ithaca!) and had a chance to begin plans for our upcoming recital in Tuscany this summer. How small but fulfilling a world it felt bringing my life and work in Italy back to Cornell.
The moment these projects finished it was time for the end-of-year push with student recitals, grades, and committee meetings. My fabulous students presented a showcase recital featuring works from Bach to Sinding and Tchaikovsky to Gershwin. As my students walked off stage, the three other Aizuri ladies arrived in Ithaca, and we began the journey to Japan with rehearsals around my teaching schedule and late-night run-throughs for friends…
I hopped off the plane from Tokyo to greet a group of dear family friends who had arrived in Ithaca to attend their son’s graduation, and we spent the rest of the weekend in commencement mode. I joined my student, Sarah McDonald for a performance of some Bartok duos at the Department of Music ceremony and stood proudly in the faculty lineup to witness the procession of the Class of 2017 along the Arts Quad of Cornell. Vice President Joe Biden delivered the 2017 Convocation address and it was, in my opinion, totally fantastic. He referenced his own college years when the country seemed even more divided and in crisis amidst the Vietnam war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. He warned against fear and encouraged the young graduates to seek action and tolerance. It was a brilliant combination of topical realism, uplifting optimism, and guiding advice for the future.
And as many know, Mr. Biden loves ice cream, and as Cornell Dairy is famous for its house-made churns, he couldn’t leave campus without the University creating and naming a new flavor after him: “Red, White and Biden.”
I sign off tonight dreaming of the music that I’ll be preparing to perform over the next two days as part of Yellow Barn’s MusicHaul No Boundaries tour, where we YB alums set out to perform concerts in the back of a converted moving truck that parks and sets-up a temporary stage on the streets of New York!
Last Tuesday we bid farewell to a musical giant. Maestro Stanislaw “Bear” Skrowaczewski was a man, whom for me, represented everything that is sacred, dutiful, and thoughtful about the art of music making.
Not only did he serve 19 years as Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra and helped to catapult the ensemble to one of the best in the nation, but was a brilliant composer and arranger. He became a mentor and granddad figure for me and my family, someone we could look to for so many of life’s answers. Bear was the definition of integrity, both musical and otherwise, and his spirit will live on for generations to come through his memory and music.
The very last piece that Maestro Stan composed (completed in September 2015) happened to be a duo written for me and my brother, Daniel, to honor my father’s 70th birthday. Daniel and I were honored to present this piece alongside his quintet “For Krystyna” (the piece he wrote to honor his wife at her funeral) at a beautiful memorial service held at Minnesota Orchestra Hall. There were beautiful words spoken by those close to him – among them his biographer Fred Harris – and the service was bookended by Bach’s Air and Bruckner’s Adagio (Maestro Stan had a particular gift and affinity for Bruckner; his recordings of Bruckner symphonies are arguably the most revered in the world) performed by the entire Minnesota Orchestra. It was a true celebration of a life lived to its fullest in every sense. Closing remarks by his two sons, Nicholas and Paul brought the event to a close, signaling only the beginning of his legacy.
The past two months were a whirlwind of wonderment in my musical life! February began with our annual Chamber Music Society of Minnesota Family Concert – a “choose-your-own-adventure” trip down bluegrass lane that brought kindergarteners up on stage to conduct, leading our every move from tempo to dynamics — was followed by Saint-Saens’ iconic “Carnival of the Animals.” On that concert I also presented the word premiere of Steve Heitzeg’s “Lake Stone Moon,” an incredible piece for solo violin (plus Lake Superior Stone, Boundary Waters driftwood, and Tibetan singing bowl!), which pays tribute to the resistance movement against fracking in the North Woods. From Minneapolis I headed south to Raleigh-Durham where the quartet dove into an intense but invigorating residency. Concerts at North Carolina State University and Cat’s Cradle were coupled with master classes at Duke University and the North Carolina Chamber Music Institute and finished off with a trip to a famous Raleigh mainstay, Nana Taco!
From North Carolina the gals and I hopped on a quick Delta flight up to Washington D.C. for our Kenned Center debut! We presented a program on the Fortas Chamber Music Series of Beethoven, Webern, Caroline Shaw and Mendelssohn; although the acoustics of their studio space while the Terrace Theatre is being renovated are less-than-ideal for string quartet playing, it was a deeply moving experience. I then headed back to Ithaca to immerse myself in the teaching of my fantastic students at Cornell and then welcomed the Aizuris to campus for our first University residency. The premiere of Stephen Dankner’s 19th quartet was paired with Mozart and Beethoven, and via residency events, we workshopped our concert repertoire with students and gave a chamber music master class on campus. It was such a thrill to bring my two musical lives together under one “roof” up in Ithaca.
A quick trip to Flushing for a performance on Marcy Rosen’s Chamber Music Live series at Queens College was followed by a performance at Rutgers University-Camden and a master class with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society at Temple University brought the calendar to mid-March. I then headed back up to Ithaca for a beautiful, long stretch of time that included one of the most intense blizzards I’ve ever witnessed (and that’s including my first 17 years in Minnesota!) – Cornell closed for the first time in 24 years – and the 27 inches of snow that fell in my backyard couldn’t go without photos…
After I finally dug myself out of my driveway, the week finished with two recitals, one at Red Newt Winery (a gorgeous finger lakes vineyard that has recently begun hosting a Sunday recital series) and another at Ithaca College on their guest artist recital series. Susan Waterbury, my twin over at IC arranged the events and then hosted a master class that I gave for her students the following day. It was a blast to work with such talented, eager and dedicated young violinists. That week finished with a deeply fulfilling and proud moment for me when I heard my senior music major, Sarah McDonald, give an inspiring and captivating Honors Recital; a few hours later I was on a flight to Memphis where I hooked back up with the quartet for a residency in partnership with the University of Memphis and the Iris Orchestra. The highlight of our experience there was working on the Mendelssohn Octet with three young musicians who are the current Iris Fellows – their talent and dedication combined with their openness and curiosity made for a rich, uplifting experience.
The next morning at 5am I was headed back to the Memphis airport to hop a flight to Minneapolis for Bear’s memorial. I had the chance to catch a rare Monday in St. Paul to witness the world’s greatest Suzuki teacher (my mom!) in action with her Pre-Twinkle group class – I nearly died from cuteness overload. As Spring Break began at Cornell on Saturday, I hopped down to the City for the start of a quartet project and was able to enjoy a lovely dinner with the magnificent Scott and Jane MacDonald, old friends and colleagues from upstate!