Encounters with violin duos are relatively rare in classical music. In fact, the two-violin section in WQXR’s music library had begun to look a little dusty -- until albums by Angela and Jennifer Chun began arriving from the Harmonia Mundi label in 2008.
A touring violin duo cannot exactly draw on a rich literature, but the Chun sisters keep their programs surprisingly varied. At the early end of the spectrum the duo plays Baroque favorites like Bach and Vivaldi's concertos for two violins. But much of their repertoire spans the past century – from Martinu, Milhaud and Shostakovich to Berio, Schnittke and Pärt. The group has commissioned pieces by George Tsontakis (Unforgettable, based on the Nat King Cole song) and Osvaldo Golijov (currently in the works).
One reason for the slender literature may be the inherent homogeneity in the sound of a violin duo. Yet the Chuns are very much a study in contrast, as Jennifer notes: "I like more analytical pieces and she likes everything more straightforward.”
“Usually she plays first violin and I play the lower part, keeping the bottom steady,” added Angela.
The Chuns began playing together from an early age in their native Seattle. They went on to study at Juilliard, at which time they made their professional debut in Bach's Double Concerto with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony Orchestra in 1997.
In the WQXR Café, the Chuns offered an all-Hungarian set, highlighted by Ligeti's early Ballad and Dance and two of Bartók's folk-tinged 44 Violin Duos. The Chuns’ passion for Hungarian music started with a former teacher, the Hungarian violinist Denes Zsigmondy. But in recent years, another Hungarian connection has emerged: Jennifer Chun has been dating George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager. Although she is reticent about discussing their relationship, the two have been seen together at several high-profile events.
"I’ve visited Budapest many times and have become friends with many painters and composers and performers since then,” she said of Soros's Hungarian roots. “It just became more familiar to me.”
Will the Chuns ever run out of two-violin repertoire? “We can always switch to viola,” said Jennifer Chun. “We do violin-violin, and violin-viola. It’s just fun for us to try new combinations.”
Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: George Wellington; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon; Text: Brian Wise