Violinist’s new chamber festival to add spice to summer music season

Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 4:18 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Vadim Gluzman and colleagues will open the first season of the North Shore Chamber Music Festival Wednesday night in Northbrook.

Early June traditionally provides a bit of a respite on Chicago’s bustling music scene, a brief lull between the end of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s season and the opening of the Grant Park Music Festival and Ravinia.

Not this year. Starting Wednesday night, violinist Vadim Gluzman will seek to fill the usual summer interregnum with the launch of the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Northbrook.

With just three programs in a single week, the new project is not attempting to match the scale or length of Chicago’ s two major summer festivals. Rather, Gluzman and his wife, pianist Angela Yoffe, seek to offer a “boutique” festival, drawing on several close area colleagues like violinist Ilya Kaler and cellist Wendy Warner in programs that will live up to the definition of chamber evenings as “music-making among friends.”

“We have had this dream for many years of having a festival,” said the 37-year-old Ukrainian-Israeli violinist. “To be honest, I don’t play enough chamber music in my schedule and I want to do it on the highest level with the best colleagues.”

“So, we thought wouldn’t it be interesting to program music we want to play?  Through the years we have built up such good relationships with our colleagues all over the world. We really wanted to do a festival with people we adore working with.”

Gluzman enjoys a successful international career and routinely appears with the world’s leading orchestras, including a widely acclaimed Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in 2009.

In fact, the idea for the festival originated with the couple’s preferred method of travel between Gluzman’s far-flung European dates — driving rather than flying or taking the train.

“Going from one place to another, we would stop in a village or a monastery and we would think, ‘What a great place for a chamber music festival!’ but nothing really materialized.”

Oddly enough, the couple happened upon the perfect venue in their hometown of Northbrook.

“We were driving, just doing grocery shopping downtown and we saw this church. And we looked at each other and said we have to go in and check it out.”

In addition to a convenient location near shopping and dining with parking, the Village Presbyterian Church offers a wonderful acoustic. “It truly is fantastic,” says Gluzman. “It’s a beautiful church—all wood, cathedral ceiling and the perfect size, about 400 seats. It was really fate that led us to this place.” In another striking coincidence, the church’s music director, Donald Chen, is an old Gluzman colleague.

The violinist’s programming philosophy is to have “a healthy variety” in the festival, much like his approach to his own recital repertoire. “I need it for myself as an artist. I cannot only eat ice cream or only eat meatballs. I need a healthy diet of many different things.”

To be sure, the three programs have several chamber cornerstones including the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and the piano quintets of Schumann and Brahms.

But Gluzman feels it’s also important to highlight chamber works of the past and present that are unjustly neglected, like the Chausson Concert for violin, piano and string quartet and the Milhaud Suite, which he believes is “an absolute gem.”

Gluzman, who also teaches at Roosevelt University, is especially enthusiastic about the Arensky Quartet for violin, viola and two cellos, which will be heard tomorrow night. “It’s an absolutely stunning work,” he says. “A true masterpiece and I don’t think I could have found a better combination of artists for this performance.”

Friday night’s program will go “From Bach to Auerbach,” segueing from a Bach keyboard concerto to Lera Auerbach’s Postcriptum, with Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and Schumann’s Piano Quintet.

Next summer’s festival will include the Pacifica Quartet and pianist-conductor Andrew Litton, another close friend. For now, Gluzman has no plans to expand beyond three programs. “We’re not looking to enlarge it in terms of size,” says Gluzman. “We only want to make it better.”

Angela Yoffe

Gluzman and Yoffe moved to the North Shore from New York nine years ago and, with seven-year-old daughter Orli, make their home in Northbrook. Chicago’s central location was attractive to the couple as a convenient base for Gluzman’s touring, which, along with his close relationship with the Stradivari Society and visiting here regularly to get his violin serviced, motivated their move to the Midwest. “I absolutely loved Chicago for many, years before we moved here. We had many many friends here and it was the right choice.”

Since most of his time is spent on the road, much of the administrative work has been shouldered by Yoffe, who Gluzman credits with the bulk of the grunt work that made the festival a reality. “She is really the one who organizes everything, raises funds and makes sure the artists will arrive on time. And on top of it she plays piano at the festival and is a full-time mom! I don’t know how she does it.”

In addition to this week’s three programs, Gluzman will offer what promises to be a fascinating pre-concert event Saturday night, what he calls a “wine-tasting of sound.” In collaboration with Geoff Fushi, president of the Stradivari Society, Gluzman will offer a lecture-demonstration of several famous violins—Amatis, Guarneri and Stradivari—and will talk about the history, construction and individual qualities of each instrument.

“For me, this is the greatest sensation—like being a kid in a toy store,” says Gluzman enthusiastically. “It is the greatest thrill to be able to hold five or six of the most extraordinary instruments and be able to play them and compare them.”

Gluzman himself is blessed to perform on a Stradivarius with a remarkable musical pedigree—the “ex Leopold Auer” owned by the celebrated Hungarian violinist, an instrument on long-term loan from the Stradivari Society.

“It’s like walking around with living history,” says Gluzman. “I was just in New Orleans playing the Tchaikovsky concerto and before I went onstage, I think to myself, ‘My God, this music was conceived with this instrument in mind.’ It is incredible to think that Tchaikovsky was imagining the sound of this very violin when composing his concerto.”

“On one side, it’s a thrill but, on the other, it’s an incredible responsibility. It’s intimidating but it’s also incredibly inspiring.”

The North Shore Chamber Music Festival opens Wednesday with Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2 and Chausson’s Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. Thursday’s program includes Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Schumann’s Piano Quintet and Lera Auerbach’s Postcriptum. Saturday’s closing concert will offer Milhaud’s Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2 and Brahms’ Piano Quintet. All festival performances take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Village Presbyterian Church, 1300 Shermer Road in Northbrook.

There will also be two preview events: 6 p.m. Friday, a concert with young musicians, “The Next Generation,” and 6 p.m. Saturday, “The Golden Age of the Violin,” with Vadim Gluzman discussing and playing several instruments from the Stradivari Society of Chicago.; 847-370-3984.

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