Classical Musicians Crash Pop Venue - Again


Following up on last season's appearance at Bridget Foy's in South Street, Astral Artists has booked World Cafe Live this Sunday with violinist Kristin Lee and saxman Doug O'Connor. Astral is investigating other non-concert hall venues, which, in thinking back to our school days of playing woodwind quintets in a biker bar in East Baltimore, can only lead to great happiness.

ArtsWatch popped a few questions to Lee, who was recently signed to the Astral roster.

What is the program for your World Cafe Live concert, and why did you choose these pieces?

The program for World Cafe Live concert consists of a variety of short pieces/movements that range from lyrical and romantic to virtuosic and brilliant; I tried to compile a program of pieces that would be intellectually stimulating, yet accessible and fun. This unusual venue inspired me to break free from a traditional recital program.
I will start out with the last two movements of Bach's solo Sonata No. 2 in a minor, which is the same work that Doug O'Connor will have ended his segment in the program with. It will be interesting for the audience to observe the similarities and differences brought to this single work through different instrumentation. Following the Bach will be Songs My Mother Taught Me by Antonin Dvorak, arranged by Fritz Kreisler. This is originally written for the voice and piano and is a selection from Dvorak's Gypsy Song Cycle.  When I was told that the setting will be in a cafe with an upright piano, I immediately thought of Scott Joplin's Ragtime Dance that is arranged for the violin by my own teacher, Itzhak Perlman. I was first told to put a program together without any piano accompaniment, but I thought, with this piece, the audience would be provided the opportunity to enjoy music in a casual cafe atmosphere, without the formalities that come with going to a stereotypical classical music concert. Last, but not least, I will be finishing my segment of the program with one of the most-beloved classical pieces, Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate. The last piece in the concert will be a collaboration with piano, saxophone, and violin. We will be performing the last two movements of a piece by Evan Chambers called "Come Down Heavy."

 Have you played in this kind of a venue before – a club rather than a concert hall?

The closest setting I have played to this kind of venue is in New York City - Le Poisson Rouge. Of course, I have played in house concerts, country clubs, or private clubs, but this would definitely be a first during brunch in Philadelphia.

 Have you and Doug played together much?

I have seen Doug's picture and read about him on Astral Artists' roster, but this is actually our very first collaboration. I am very thrilled to have this rare chance to work with one of the best saxophone players.

 Are you still at Juilliard? With whom do you study?

I just graduated from the master's program at the Juilliard School last May, where I studied with Itzhak Perlman and Donald Weilerstein. Now I am teaching as a faculty member at CUNY Queens College.

One more question - or, really, two. Can you tell me, in terms as specific as possible, what you took away from your studies with Weilerstein and Perlman? Did each have a different area of concentration (technique, interpretive insights, etc.)?

I've studied with Mr. Perlman since I was 14, so it has been over 10 years that I have known him now. He is the one who has brought me up to where I am now, both as a musician and as a person. One of the most important lessons he has taught me is that music is not a kind of work or burden, but a way of life.  I was brought up in a very strict disciplinary home where my mother practiced with me for 6 hours everyday. When I met Mr. Perlman, he introduced me to other fields of art, such as paintings, food, literature, and even other genres of music, which was also all part of practice and nurturing towards my violin playing. Mr. Perlman really is more than just a teacher to me. He has become my mentor and my second father!

I met Mr. Weilerstein fairly recently. I met him as a chamber music coach and he later became my private teacher. I've worked with him intensively just over last year, and I am confident and proud to say how much he has changed me. The biggest improvement through studying with Mr. Weilerstein was understanding my body and alignment - and how the violin rests as another portion of my body. His words and teaching can be a challenge at first because it could seem very abstract (for example, he would say to feel the vibration in the fingertips against the bowgrip), but once it clicks, it really changes everything completely. One of my favorite things that Mr. Weilerstein has told me was to think of the violin has part of the vocal chord. Since the violin rests right on the neck, we should draw the bow as if we are about to sing into and through the instrument.

Both Mr. P (that's what I call him) and Mr. Weilerstein worked on technique and musicality with me, so I wouldn't necessarily divide them into separate concentrations of teaching. However, Mr. P did tend to work on broader and more general ideas of a piece and focused towards performances, where as Mr. Weilerstein focused a lot on details. When I worked with them both at the same time last year, they really complemented each other and enhanced my knowledge and understanding of music, art, and the art of playing.