Young winners show impressive artistry at NSCMF benefit

Sun Feb 21, 2021 at 11:20 am

By Tim Sawyier

Violinist Julian Rhee, cellist Katherine Audas and pianist Janice Carissa perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor Saturday night at PianoForte.

The tenth anniversary season of the North Shore Chamber Music Festival (NSCMF) was cancelled this past summer, along with almost every other live event on the nation’s cultural calendar. 

Saturday night at PianoForte Studios the NSCMF continued its fall “onstage/offstage” series, providing a taste of what a cautious return to in-person concertizing will probably entail: a small, masked audience, temperature checks, a simultaneous livestream, and offerings from the solo and chamber repertoire.

The event was “Stars of Tomorrow,” a benefit gala for the festival’s Arkady Fomin Scholarship Fund (AFSF), named in honor of NSCMF artistic director Vadim Gluzman’s influential violin teacher. The fund provides scholarship awards to promising young artists, and Saturday’s roster comprised current and recent past winners: 2020 recipients Katherine Audas (cello) and Julian Rhee (violin), and 2019 laureate Janice Carissa (piano). These college-age musicians delivered accomplished performances that were a fitting tribute to Gluzman’s storied mentor.

Audas was joined by her violinist twin sister Jacqueline (a 2017 AFSF award winner) to open the evening with the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia for Violin and Cello. Understandably, the pair—both studying at Rice’s Shepherd School—was deeply familiar with each other’s playing, performing this involved work from memory. They effortlessly dispatched the increasingly knotty variations with an untroubled air, clearly at ease from their years of experience playing side-by-side.

Rhee was next to show his mettle, which he did in the Introduction and Tarantella of Pablo de Sarasate. In his brief comments, the violinist, a student at New England Conservatory, remarked that he had been playing this tour-de-force work since the age of nine. His rendition has no doubt matured since then, as he deftly navigated Sarasate’s significant technical demands, bringing ardor to the rhapsodic opening and esprit to the ensuing dance.

Originally from Indonesia, pianist Carissa is now studying at the Curtis Institute, and followed Rhee with a polychromatic reading of “El Pelele” from Enrique Granados’ Goyescas, Book II. After the movement’s explosive opening, emphatically delivered, Carissa was attentive to Granados’ subtle shifts in harmony and texture. “El Pelele” was a vivid picture rather than a mere showpiece in her hands, though there was never any question of her prodigious technical capacities.

Carissa, Rhee, and Katherine Audas joined forces for Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor. They brought youthful vigor to the opening Molto allegro ed agitato, though were at their best in Mendelssohn’s more reflective moments. It is always a potential liability in PianoForte’s space that loud dynamics can sound noisy rather than robust, and that was occasionally the case here.

The Andante con moto tranquillo launched with a limpid solo for Audas, and the trio allowed this movement to breathe in the manner of the composer’s more inward Songs Without Words. The ensuing Scherzo had a buoyant, fey quality, with Carissa’s fleet-fingered touch particularly impressive. The Finale suffered again from a surfeit of force for the confines, but still brought the work to an assertive and jubilant conclusion.

As in most benefit situations, the evening was punctuated with brief extra-musical offerings and speeches. The night opened with a short film about Fomin, ably directed by Quin Mathews. Before the Mendelssohn Trio, the “2021 Opportunity Award” was presented to young visual artist Lizzi Volpert, who appeared in a rather awkward Zoom interview with Gluzman. (What Zoom interview isn’t awkward?) Mina Zikri, music director of the Northbrook Symphony, which hosts AFSF winners as soloists, spoke of the fruitful collaboration between the entities. The powerful conclusion of the Mendelssohn was followed by a lackluster interview among Gluzman and the young musicians, ending an evening of strong performances on a weak nonmusical note.

Visit for information about upcoming NSCMF “onstage/offstage” events. The next event is a workshop with cellist Johannes Moser on Sunday March 12.

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