Blog/Blogue

September 7th, 2013 – Assisi, Italy

-Assisi Italy Sept 5 2013

Dear Readers,

I’ve always noticed how artistic inspiration can be found by just being immersed in a particular environment.   The interplay between the artist and the surroundings has always been of great interest and fascination to me.   It was particularly so in my recent concert in Assisi, Italy, where I performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons outdoor, amidst nature in a very special place, the Bosco di San Francesco.

Many would know Assisi as the birthplace of San Francesco, or St. Francis, an important saint in Italian and Christian history.  As it turns out, the Bosco di San Francesco, a 64 hectare piece of stunning Italian wooded landscape right beside the famous St. Francis Basilica, is a very significant site in the history of St. Francis and a frequent destination for Christian pilgrims.  With this in mind, I stepped onto these sacred grounds.  When I looked around for the first time, I immediately felt that there was something extremely special and revered about this place.  It was meaningful just to be here.

Performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons here with orchestra was therefore an extraordinary experience.  When playing these classic pieces, one would always try to portray the spirit and liveliness of nature.  Playing them here only enhanced the communion with nature first-hand.  Aside from the historical significance, the mere act of just breathing the air and noticing the lush and vivid greenery on all sides of me was already breathtaking.  While playing the season of Summer especially, feeling the immense heat of Italian  summer fueled me with much strength and imagination.  Overall, it was moving to share this wonderful musical experience in such a place with the musicians of I Cameristi del Maggio Fiorentino as well as the  large and appreciative audience.  I felt so much energy and emotion onstage this time even after what would normally be a draining 40 minute musical workout, and  managed to return to the stage with Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen as an encore.

Kerson

 

 

June 28th, 2013 – Magione, Umbria, Italy

Trasimeno 2013

From Left to Right: Aristo Sham, Scipione Sangiovanni,  Angela Hewitt, and Kerson Leong

Dear Readers,

Once again, I found myself enjoying the luxury and serenity of the wonderful Italian countryside.   Having just spent the last few days in bustling downtown Toronto, this change of pace is like a breath of fresh air.   Here in the region of Umbria, the sight of the gently rolling hills, the tranquil Trasimeno Lake, and the generally undisturbed landscape was breathtaking.

The last time I came here was during Angela Hewitt’s Trasimeno Music Festival two years ago, when she invited me and my brother to perform in the pre-festival concert.  This time, she invited me back to her festival again to play a special concert featuring young musicians.  The concert was to be held at the Teatro Mengoni in Magione.    I remembered this place very well, as one of the outdoor concerts from two years ago was moved here when it rained.

I was to play Ysaye’s Ballade and Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1, and for the latter piece I was paired with Aristo Sham, a young pianist whose mother tongue is also Cantonese.  When I play with someone, it’s always nice when something ‘clicks’ right away. With Aristo, this was certainly the case.  Everything was there at the start and it was so easy to play together.   As I’ve said before, I always love playing with young musicians my age.   It’s almost like we were at the same learning stage and shared similar experiences, and somehow that managed to show in the music too.

Outside the preparation and performance, there was also so much to enjoy here.  The authentic Italian cuisine was always excellent and the delicious gelato too tempting to resist.  We even managed to try some great Italian wine.  I stayed for two of Angela’s concerts during the festival, and was reminded of what a great and unique experience this really is.

Kerson

 

 

June 22th-June 23th, 2013 – Toronto, Canada

Violinist Kerson Leong shakes Concertmaster Jonathan Crow's hand photo by Josh Clavir

Photo by: Josh Clavir

Dear Readers,

I love the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and look forward to their performances at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa whenever they come visiting.  Moreover,  I’ve always admired Peter Oundjian for his charisma and enthusiasm on stage and for breathing life into the orchestra.   So I was very excited to be making my debut with them as part of their ‘Light Classics’ series, this time with guest conductor Andrew Grams.   My teacher, Jonathan Crow, was concertmaster.

It still felt like a different time zone, as we drove down to Toronto barely a few hours since I arrived home from a tiring but wonderful trip to Prague.   When I walked onto the stage at Roy Thomson Hall and looked around this big space, I felt inspired to unleash more beautiful sound than ever before.  I’ve only been here once before for a school music trip, but it was a refreshing experience nevertheless.  It was also interesting to notice the change in acoustics with and without an audience in the hall.

Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy was on the program. In concert, the orchestra was so cohesive and so full of energy that it succeeded in capturing the character of Carmen in sound alone.   It really was great fun working with this orchestra and the conductor, who is also a violinist.   After the concert, it was very nice to be greeted by many friends who were in the audience.

Kerson

 

June 10th-June 20th, 2013 – Prague and surrounding cities, Czech Republic

SONY DSCDear Readers,

I was on the bus at the Ottawa train station, waiting to be taken to the airport in Montreal.   I was texting my mother as, even though she was standing right outside the bus with my father, she could not hear or see me mouth my parting words.   I was off to Prague and for the very first time, I was travelling without my parents.  The journey seemed so long and daunting, as I felt a sense of emptiness knowing that they, my source of confidence, would not be with me.  But all was well, as I was to meet Francoise Davoine from Radio Canada in Montreal, who was going to accompany me on this trip.  I have heard so many wonderful things about Prague, and I was going to see it all for myself.

Several months back, CBC Radio Canada in Montreal entered me in Concertino Praga, a radio competition for young musicians held in Prague every year.  I had the opportunity to record a selection of pieces professionally at the CBC building in Montreal, which was a first experience for me.  These live recordings were sent to Prague as an audition CD, and a few months later, I was invited to attend and play concerts at the South Bohemian Festival along with the other winners in and around Prague.

This was a truly a memorable trip for me in every way.  Not only did I attend and perform in concerts of the South Bohemian Festival in Prague  and other cities nearby, but I also made wonderful friends and had a great time.  I had the chance to meet other talented musicians from Russia, Romania, Austria, Bulgaria, etc. and perform alongside them.  Prague was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to, and I can imagine how it must have inspired Mozart in his music making when he lived here several centuries ago.   Even though I had many performances right ahead, this trip will definitely stay in my heart for a long time.

Kerson

May 23th-24th, 2013 – Rome and Terni, Italy

1-Spanish Steps in Rome May 2013 054

Dear Readers,

How wonderful it was to be back on the streets of Rome, and to have the opportunity to see friends and acquaintances alike  from before, visit new places, and experience more of the great Italian culture.   I was back for two recitals in both Rome and Terni, a new city for me, as part of the ‘Assisi in the World’ Festival.

The first recital was held at the residence of the Austrian Ambassador in Rome.   It was truly fulfilling to perform such a wonderfully diverse program of music by Vitali, Beethoven, Sarasate, Faure, and others for a discerning group of music lovers and musicians in an intimate venue.   Dinner after the concert was delicious.   The next day, we were up bright and early to catch the train to Terni, which was an hour away from Rome.   I got to perform the same program again, but this time in an old and beautiful hall.

This trip brought back many great memories from last December, as I was met with many familiar faces from the Christmas concert at the Quirinale Palace.   ALl the same, I think the most special and memorable part of this trip was to play with my mother again.    She has been my accompanist and musical support right from the start since I began playing the violin, and still is.   In recent times, it was harder for us to play together due to her being busy with her music school, Tutti Muzik, in Ottawa.   Nevertheless, it was great to play with her again for these concerts, as we know each other so well both on and off stage.   We have a mother-to-son connection and innate musical understanding that I will have with nobody else.

Kerson

 

 

 

 

April 23rd – April 27th, 2013 – Montreal, Québec

1-Performance at Maison Symphonique De Montreal 042 (1)

Dear Readers,

Last week, I was performing in and around Montreal with l’Orchestre Metropolitain as part of a concert series called ‘Airs de jeunesse 2.0’.   I played the Carmen Fantasy by Franz Waxman in the concerts in Saint-Laurent, Rivière-des-Prairies, and in the Maison Symphonique at Montreal’s Place des Arts.

Youth has been a strong theme during the whole week I was there.  My fellow performers during these concerts, pianist Marika Bournaki and conductor Jean-Michael Lavoie, are, although older than I am, still young rising stars in the classical music world.   A large school choir of kids around my age was also present and one of the short opening pieces was written by students under the supervision of a composer.   Furthermore, the dress rehearsal at the Maison Symphonique in the morning before the actual concert was filled with enthusiastic school children of different ages.  It is great to be in such a youthful environment, playing with talented young people, and letting the young experience great music.

In fact, getting young people interested in music and the arts in general has been a very important part of my life.  I feel that, through my own experiences, it is necessary for young people, not only in the arts but in every walk of life, to look more into the deeper things in life, to find and pursue their inner passions, and to gain fulfillment and meaning through them.  I love to share my story with people so it was a great privilege for me to participate in this concert series.

Kerson

March 17th, 2013 – Hudson, Québec

Dear Readers,

I have always loved chamber music. Whether it’s with a large group or a very few, I love the atmosphere, the communication and the feeling of making music with someone else who is passionate about the same thing as you. For this reason, I always treasure the few musical moments I share with other people. This time, I had the opportunity to play a full program of music for two violins with Jonathan Crow, who has been a big influence in my violin development.

A great departure from what I usually perform, the music wasn’t something usually heard on a day to day basis. The varied program featured music of composers such as Leclair, Prokofiev, Ysaye,  Bartok, Schnittke, and Luciano Berio. It made me explore more techniques, sounds and colours on the violin, from the beautiful to the downright ridiculous. I also played the viola, as an encore, for the very first time in concert. It was certainly refreshing and liberating to perform such new, varied and strangely beautiful music.

What I also love when travelling is connecting with new audiences. The little community of Hudson in Quebec may be very small indeed, but at our concert, there was certainly a good number of dedicated music lovers. It brought great warmth to also see the amount of young people at our concert and how appreciative the audience was. It was also very generous of them to invite us  to a potluck dinner after the concert. This kind of hospitality really makes me feel that I’m doing something for a good cause, in the name of great music.

Kerson

Feb 24th, 2013 – Lanaudière, Québec

It was with a familiar excitement when I walked into one of the rehearsal halls in the Place des Arts in Montreal.  No, I wasn’t going to perform here yet; I can’t wait though to try out the new Maison symphonique de Montréal here when I debut with  l’Orchestre Métropolitain later in April.   For now, however,  I was here to rehearse the Bruch Concerto with Maestro Stephane Laforest and the Sinfonia de Lanaudière.  I first worked with Maestro Laforest in October before I started this blog,  playing the same concerto with the Sherbrooke Symphony Orchestra.  It felt great  to work with him again.  The concert itself took place a few days later at Théâtre Hector-Charland  in Lanaudière, which was not far from Montreal.

The more you perform a piece, the more you get to know it better. When I walked on stage this time, I felt an increased sense of assurance and poise. It made way for more ease of expression, but most importantly, it made me enjoy the experience more on stage. I felt like I knew the conductor and musicians very well. It felt like the piece was mine, and it felt like I was home on stage.

It reminded me of the time late last year when I played with different orchestras in different cities around Quebec. It was a time of great adventure for me. Wherever I go, the musical connection lasts and becomes stronger over time. This is the power of music, and we musicians are united through it.

Kerson

 

Jan 19th, 2013 – Kingston, Canada

Dear Readers,

After spending the first night back in Ottawa, I was on the road once again to Kingston. I was to play the Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with the Kingston Symphony Orchestra in a special concert hosted by CBC radio broadcaster Tom Allen.

Arriving in Kingston for the second time, I was immediately captured by the flavour of this city once again. The stone roads and the old fashioned buildings in the city centre reminded me of places I’ve been to in Europe. The concert hall was smaller than usual but welcoming in its atmosphere.

I was quite heavily sick on the day of the performance, and therefore it was an interesting first experience for me. Perhaps I missed the paradise-like weather in California a little too much when I got back. However, the conductor, Glen Fast, and the orchestra were very easy and enjoyable to work with.

The concert itself was a big success with a varied program and vibrant enthusiasm from the audience. It really made me feel like all was familiar to me because Tom Allen, who was brilliant and funny as always, was someone who I always listened to on the radio in the car. Even though I was sick and tired, it was definitely a warm, welcoming experience that made me think only of comfort and music.

Kerson

Jan 12th and 13th, 2013 – San Diego and Los Angeles, CA

Brahms Double

Dear Readers,

My brother Stanley and I performed the Brahms Double Concerto with the CalState University/Olympia Youth Orchestra in our recent trip to Southern California.   It was a trip filled with wonderful memories, of reunion with relatives and friends we haven’t seen in years, of new friends and interesting people met along the way, and even of great suspense, like when the C string on Stanley’s cello unexpectedly went loose during our performance of the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia in San Diego and we had to improvise on the spot, or when we were stuck in endless traffic in downtown LA while trying frantically not to be late for a very important appointment.  Interestingly, the “double” theme recurred throughout our trip, in both complementary and contrasting ways.

To start off, most of our time were spent in two great US cities, LA and San Diego.  In San Diego, everything seemed to be at a more relaxed pace.  My dad and I gave a lecture/demonstration  on string resonance, tone, and intonation at the USD’s University of the Third Age.  The capacity audience comprised mainly avid life-long learners whose average age was probably many times mine, but their thirst for knowledge was really an inspiration.  I also got to perform with the Greater San Diego Community Orchestra, which members were mainly older amateurs  and music enthusiasts.  In contrast, everything seemed faster and more hectic in LA.  For one thing, we were constantly on the run, and we probably spent more time on the road than anything else.   Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun working with a youth orchestra for the first time, and my dad and I  also gave the same lecture in LA, this time to a young group of students at CalState University.

I also encountered two well known violinists during this trip.  Fellow Canadian violinist James Ehnes, who I’ve known for a few years, was in town performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and I was able to catch his performance.  It was a nice surprise for him when we dropped by afterwards to say hello while he was in the lobby signing CD’s.  On a different note, I was also very fortunate to be able to meet Midori  at her studio and we had a very nice chat about life in general.  She was a very kind and generous person, and I benefited a lot from her advice, vast knowledge, and experience.   It was also wonderful getting to hold and play her 1734 del Gesu, which once belonged to Ruggiero Ricci and Bronislaw Huberman.  I adored its caressing and deep sound under my ear.

The del Gesu was but one of the two great instruments I tried during the trip.  The other one was beautiful long-period Stradivarius at the Hans Weisshaar workshop.   We were there because Georg Ettinger, the owner, was very kind to lend my brother a beautiful Nicolas Vuillaume cello for the Brahms Double concert.  The Strad was one of the best I have tried.  It is always a very special moment when one finds  so much depth, colour range, and soul in one instrument.

Going back to the Brahms Double, it was the first time that my brother and I performed the entire piece with orchestra.  It was a great first experience, and I am sure I’ll come back to it the next time searching deeper and finding more in this great work.  It was a ‘double’ great trip altogether.

Kerson Leong