A Minute with Juliette Kang, violinist

Violinist Juliette Kang of the Philadelphia Orchestra will join Maestro Bruce Hangen and the Orchestra of Indian Hill on November 14 to play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Learn why she loves the Concerto, why she misses Boston and loves Philadelphia, the composers she most loves to play, and more.

OIH_Juliette162329_750Prior to joining the Philadelphia Orchestra, you were Assistant Concertmaster with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Do you miss Boston? How do audiences compare in Boston and Philadelphia?

I absolutely miss Boston. I lived in Brookline, and spent time regularly in Cambridge as well, and those communities as well as Boston proper have such distinctive character and spirit. I would have loved to raise my family there. The Boston Symphony’s elegant sound and expertise is something nobody would forget, and I learned so much from my experiences there. The Symphony Hall audience is so knowledgeable, that comes through even in the quietly rapt attention they give!

That being said, I spent some of my childhood in Philadelphia, and have reclaimed my heritage as a proud Philadelphian. The Fabulous Philadelphians are more than a great orchestra, we are a family and amazingly supportive of each other through thick and thin. Our audiences are passionate and appreciative and love a big heart-on-sleeves performance!

Who are your top three composers? Why?

My top three are Mozart, Ravel, and Prokofiev. Mozart is, for me, proof that a higher power exists, one that can grant genius of simplicity, beauty, humanity. Ravel’s music never fails to move my heart, and stirs up my imagination of seeing the world as an exotic and interesting, yet deeply personal place. Prokofiev also reminds me of wondrous adventures and soaring happiness, with those harmonic resolutions that are twisty and clever and so satisfying. Each one of them wrote incredible music that speaks directly to children as well, and as a parent I couldn’t thank them enough for sharing those gifts. Peter and the Wolf rocks!

What is the most challenging piece you perform?

I find much of what Brahms wrote to be so thrilling to play, but difficult to imagine from the listener’s point of view. I have such respect for his music that it can be intimidating in a way, like trying to hug a well respected professor. Also, in today’s society where attention spans may be getting shorter every day, I am conscious of a desire to counter that, and show the inherent value of an expansive thought, movement, or work. Brahms’ music is full of love but can end up sounding long winded, and so I am always fighting the battle of indulging every single point of beauty vs. showing the architectural form. I am proud to be part of a wonderful chamber group, the Clarosa Piano Quartet, and we have been immersing ourselves in Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A major. It is an inspiring challenge.

Like Mendelssohn, you began playing an instrument at a young age. What about Mendelssohn inspires you? What do you love about the Violin Concerto?

Mendelssohn is so akin to Mozart, in his natural early genius for melody, harmonic interest, incredible flow. It’s really amazing how his very early works (the Octet is my favorite example, written at age 16) already show all the compositional abilities he ever needed, plus that rapturous joy of youth. The violin concerto is so pristinely perfect, I sometimes feel it can play itself and sound just as gorgeous as it does when imbued with all the personality in the world. That’s not to say it’s easy! The way he chose every note and it was the exactly right one means that the slightest smudge will mar the gloss, more than if it were one of those swashbuckling, special effects kind of pieces. To me the emotional progression from beginning to end, of early melancholy lyricism giving way to fiery anger, and times of great peace (perhaps envisioned from afar), then culminating in the elfin charm and triumph of the last movement puts this in the very highest echelon of great concertos.

Do you have children? If so, do they play an instrument? What is your number one practice tip for them?

I have two daughters, ages 9 and 4. They are both very musical, and the elder has been learning piano for 4 years. The younger is eager to start lessons on some instrument! My practice tip is to always remember the job of learning is one that takes just a few steps every day. Don’t expect perfection too soon, but do stay on a path of constantly improving some little part of playing. Sometimes it’s uphill, and sometimes it’s an easy glide. Try ending each practice session with something that makes you feel good, a great song that reminds you why music is important to you.

What’s on your ipod playlist now?

I have to say I rarely listen to recorded music! No ipod, no playlist, I love live music and I love silence as well!

Maestro Bruce Hangen and the Orchestra of Indian Hill
featuring Juliette Kang, Associate Concertmaster, Philadelphia Orchestra, violin
True Genius: All Mendelssohn
Saturday, November 14 at 7:30 pm
Littleton HS Performing Arts Center
Tickets: $20, $35, $50

Watch Juliette and her colleagues from the Philadelphia Orchestra playing perhaps their most unique concert to date!

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