Vibrant violin finale closes North Shore Chamber Music Festival 

Sun Jun 09, 2024 at 10:00 am

By Tim Sawyier

Violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe performed at the final concert of the North Shore Chamber Music Festival Saturday night in Northbrook.

The North Shore Chamber Music Festival has become a reliable musical highlight of early summer in Chicago. Since 2011, artistic director Vadim Gluzman and executive director Angela Yoffe have assembled rosters of prominent colleagues and promising students to offer three evenings of chamber music at Northbrook’s Village Presbyterian Church in early June. This year’s festival closed Saturday night to a sold-out house for a program filled with the exceptional musicianship one has come to expect over the years.

The first part of the evening constituted what Gluzman called a “mini-violin festival”—an apt description of the three brief Tchaikovsky works for violin and piano programmed. The first was the Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op. 42, a three-movement suite for which Gluzman took the first movement, and 2024 Arkady Fomin Scholarship winner Nijoma Grevious took the final two.

Gluzman wholly projected the brooding sensibility of the opening “Meditation,” which was originally intended as the slow movement for the composer’s Violin Concerto. On his 1690 “ex-Auer” Stradivarius, he expertly charted the path from the somber opening melody to its more agitated, unabashed moments of expression. Grevious, a Juilliard grad and founding member of the Abeo Quartet, was exceptionally articulate in the bounding central “Scherzo,” and offered a gracious rendering of the closing “Melodie,” capturing its air of wistful nostalgia.

Next was the Sérénade mélancolique, Op. 26, like the Violin Concerto dedicated to Auer, and rendered Saturday by Danbi Um, a Curtis grad and Menuhin Competition Silver Medalist. The single movement unfolds in a searching manner, and Um’s subtle performance captured both its wandering progression and expressive breadth.

The Tchaikovsky-fest closed with the Op. 34 Valse-Scherzo from Paul Huang, a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with a burgeoning solo career. Huang was wholly at home in Tchaikovsky’s playfully virtuosic vein here, dispatching the extroverted pyrotechnics with aplomb. At times it felt as though his assertive playing crossed into  raw aggression, but if ever there were a place for it, it is in a work such as this.

All the violinists were accompanied by pianist Alessio Bax, and it is hard to imagine more sensitive, collaborative support. An assured and understated presence at the keyboard, his playing seamlessly followed each violinist’s efforts, and he brought flair to the piano’s spotlit moments.

The first half closed with all four violinists on stage for Ludwig Wilhelm Maurer’s (1787-1878) Concertante in A Major for Four Violins, accompanied by Yoffe. While Tchaikovsky himself reviewed the 1874 St. Petersburg premiere of this work, calling it “a very effective piece,” Maurer’s score does not register as an undiscovered masterpiece in the 21st century. With tuneful brisk outer movements framing a lyrical Andante, the four soloists Saturday had an engaged conversation among themselves and gave Maurer’s blandly melodious score as much advocacy as they could, if not quite making a case for its unearthing.

The second half was devoted to Max Bruch’s String Octet, Op. post, from 1920, the German composer’s final completed work. Bruch’s score is richly Romantic, with unmistakable whiffs of the Brahms Serenades and the Mendelssohn Octet (Bruch substitutes a double bass for the second cello). It is striking to consider that such music was being written at the same moment as the height of the Second Viennese School’s serialist experiments.

With Gluzman sitting first violin, the NSCMF players gave a luminous account of the Octet. The opening Allegro moderato has a vigorous, open-air feel, and the group collectively followed the ebb and flow of Gluzman’s assured leadership. He launched the dark-hued Adagio with a probing violin melody, and the ensemble’s collective timbre shimmered as it opened up in sunnier, lyrical passages, before they closed the evening with the Allegro molto’s surging energy, bringing the capacity crowd to its feet.

It is tradition at NSCMF to close the festival with an encore featuring the entire Festival roster, and to this end they offered an arrangement of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” with clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg, which had actually concluded the previous evening’s show. The assembled players gave the raucously jazzy arrangement freewheeling treatment, earning further ovations that felt like an affectionate “See you next year!”

Programs for the 2025 North Shore Chamber Music Festival will be posted at

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