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 Trains and 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…