Whether performing at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Carnegie Hall in New York, or Qingdao Grand Auditorium in China, Canadian violinist Conrad Chow has won over audiences with his interpretations of music from different centuries, continents, and styles. A laureate at the International Stepping Stone Competition in Quebec, Conrad Chow leads a rich performing career as a soloist and chamber musician. He is also a devoted teacher. Despite his young age (Dr. Chow is 30), he is currently on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory’s Young Artists Performance Academy in Toronto, Canada, and Visiting Professor of Violin at the University of Jinan College of Music in Shandong, China. He performs on a 1933 Gaetano Pollastri violin.
Canadian violinist Conrad Chow launches his debut CD, PREMIERES with a special performance at Toronto’s Gallery 345 on Thursday, June 28. The recording, on Cambria Master Recordings (Cambria CD-1204; distributed by Naxos) features premiere recordings of music by Bruce Broughton (an award- winning film composer from the USA), Ronald Royer and Kevin Lau, teaming Conrad Chow with SINFONIA TORONTO conducted by Ronald Royer. PREMIERES also includes a bonus track, featuring Conrad Chow and Bruce Broughton in a transcription of Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor for violin & piano. Chow’s June 28th appearance is with Canadian pianist Angela Park.
Chow added the following personal note addressed to me at the end which I thought it would be appropriate to share:
“Premieres represents two years of work, and also two years of enjoyment to me. I hope you get to experience and hear it for yourself!”
I haven’t yet heard the CD but in the meantime, I ask Conrad Chow ten questions: five about himself and five about his new CD PREMIERES.
1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?
I’d say I’m a pretty balanced mix between both my mother and father. Recently, I’ve noticed people saying how much I sound like my father though! My parents were both born in Hong Kong, and came to Vancouver in their teenage years. My ancestral home is in Shandong China (the province that contains the city of Qingdao, of Tsingtao beer fame, and is also known as the city of the violin).
2) what is the BEST thing / worst thing about being a violinist?
The best thing about being a violinist is not having to buy an extra plane ticket for a cello or wheel around a bass while shouldering a stool. The worst thing is feeling envious of the piccolo player as she stuffs her instrument into her shirt pocket.
Seriously though, the best thing about being a violinist is getting to bare your soul on an instrument that is at once almost as human as the voice, but can also produce timbres and colours that are unique to the instrument. From the deep and emotionally sensitive, we can do a 180 and immediately burst into insane licks and agile fireworks. When it all flows, you feel like you can slow down time, and I imagine acrobats, dancers, and racecar drivers must all feel something similar.
3) who do you like to listen to?
I’ve always loved Gil Shaham’s sound. I met him once when I was a teenager at the Aspen Music Festival, and I remember that his personality was as engaging and welcoming as his sound.
For non-classical music, I like MC Jin – a freestyle rapper who is as quick and clever with his improvised lyrics as his rhythm and delivery are biting and dynamic when he engages in rap battles. Performance is all about feeling the audience and working with them to create a specific atmosphere – Jin is a master at this art.
4) what ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I could play volleyball, basketball, and chop vegetables without worrying about my “precious fingers”. One day…one day!!
5) when you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favourite thing to do?
I like to meet with friends.
Five more concerning Conrad Chow’s new CD PREMIERES.
1) How did the compositions on the CD PREMIERES challenge you?
Since all the pieces on the CD are actually premieres, I really had to trust my instincts and communicate with the composers to see how I could best interpret their ideas. There was no ‘act to follow’, so to speak, so that was a challenge and blessing at the same time.
Also, with the depth and breadth that Broughton, Royer and Lau brought to the project in their compositions, I worked very hard to convincingly convey that variety in an interesting way. Even just stylistically, there were elements evoking the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Gypsy, and 20th Century idioms throughout the CD. The second movement of the Broughton Triptych was actually inspired by Prokofiev, and I found myself going back to the 2nd movement of the G minor Violin Concerto to compare and contrast.
Likewise with the Royer Rhapsody and Ravel’s Tzigane, and Lau’s Joy with Barber’s Violin Concerto, or even the slow movement of Bruch’s Concerto.
2) What do you love about compositions such as those by Bruce Broughton and Ronald Royer (such as those featured on the CD)?
They are instantly accessible, but also multifaceted. Chess is all about being easy to play, but difficult to master. Similarly with their music, I find that audiences always enjoy their first experience, but repeat listening is where a lot of the deeper enjoyment and understanding can be found. Things like polyrythmic meters, octatonic scales, hidden themes, kind of rush by on a first sit-through, but after hearing the pieces a few times, these are the interesting aspects of the works that keep them fresh. Meanwhile, I like to know that when I’m performing these pieces, people don’t feel that they are too esoteric or opaque, and yet, there’s plenty of “steak” for me to bring out, along with the sizzle.
3) was there a favourite among these pieces?
The Broughton Triptych is the real centre-point of the CD – I think that it is a considerable achievement in composition and deserves to be played and heard throughout the world. For me, it was the most technically challenging, but it was so satisfying to put it all together. With Ron Royer conducting the live world premiere of the piece with the Scarborough Philharmonic in April of 2011, we knew that this would be an amazing focal point for the project.
The Royer Capriccio and Sarabande are also special for me, because I actually performed them almost 10 years ago, but never had the opportunity to record them properly until now. They are always fun to play, and I especially enjoy the interplay between the ensemble, solo violin, and harpsichord.
The Lau Joy, is…a joy to play. It’s so filled with verve and passion, and only brings out good memories for me. I actually met Kevin just a month before premiering that work in 2008, and we’ve become close friends and colleagues since then. It seems to be a favourite amongst hopeless romantics and dreamers of the world (and I often count myself in that category!)
4) how do you relate to these virtuoso violin pieces as a modern man?
Violin and virtuosity represent timeless concepts, whether they come from the 17th century, or the 21st. People like to see humanity, emotion, drama, and connection. They’re also tantalized by bravado, energy, seductiveness, and mastery of difficult challenges. The violin is a particularly potent tool to evoke all of these fundamental, primal concepts, and it’s our challenge to bring those to light in a way that is fresh, and will keep audiences engaged. I love being a (virtuoso) violinist!!
5) is there a violinist out there whose approach you particularly admire, or who has influenced you?
My two heroes whom I’ve never met are Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma. They have a populist approach to making music – everybody should be included – and their message is always positive and inspiring. That’s what we should all be here for…
My personal heroes are the teachers who have formed my skills and opinions about music-making. From my first teacher, Janet Wilchfort, to my teacher at the Canadian Royal Conservatory, who taught me during my formative teenage years, Alec Hou, to my university professors Miriam Fried, Pamela Frank, Ani Kavafian, and Philip Setzer, and finally to my post-collegiate mentors Philippe Djokic and Eduard Schmieder; all are consummate artists, and continue to be immense inspirations to me.
Conrad Chow, violin & Angela Park, piano
Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 7:30PM
Gallery 345: 345 Sorauren Avenue, Toronto
Tickets: $30 regular; $25 Students/Seniors/Arts Workers
Reservations can be made by calling 416 822.9781 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org