Chee-Yun: Hello, everyone. I'm Chee-Yun. Tonight, 22-year-old violinist Julian Rhee joins us in the studio, here on the Young Artists Showcase.
Chee-Yun: The Young Artists Showcase has been generously underwritten by The Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation for over 45 years. During that time, the showcase has featured an incredible array of young musicians. We continue that tradition tonight with violinist Julian Rhee.
The Strad describes Julian as “sophisticated, assured tone, superb intonation, and the kind of poise and showmanship that thrills audiences.” Well, I 100% agree with that. [chuckles] At only 22 years old, Julian has won top prizes in several international competitions; the silver medalist of the 11th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, the first prize winner of the 2020 Elma Oliveira International Competition, and the 2018 Johansen International Competition for Young String Players.
Also passionate about chamber music, Julian's performance on both violin and viola earned him first prize in the Fischoff and the M-Prize Chamber Competitions. Julian, welcome to the show.
Julian Rhee: Thank you for having me.
Chee-Yun: I met you at the 2018 Johansen International Competition when I was adjudicating that um, only 17 years old, and yet, you seemed to understand the depth of music and express it so convincingly and your interpretation of Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was especially memorable. So, Julian, please tell us about your program tonight.
Julian Rhee: Absolutely. So, Chelsea Wang and I will be starting with Wagner's Albumblatt, which literally translates as album leaf, which is just one of the pieces you put in the front cover of an album as an opener, and then we'll move to Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d’un lieu cher, which is a three movement suite, the third movement being the most famous, the melody, but the first one also being Tchaikovsky's original intent for his second movement of his Violin Concerto, so a really beautiful movement. And then we'll finish with some fireworks, finishing with Saint-Saëns's Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, which is very virtuosic, it's very brooding. But again, one of those pieces, kind of a barn burner at the end of any program.
Chee-Yun: Oh, I'm so excited for tonight's program. I can't wait. Here is Wagner's Albumblatt.
[MUSIC - Wagner: Albumblatt]
Chee-Yun: That was Wagner's Albumblatt. Wagner wrote over 100 works for piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra. Most of these works are not as well known, nor often performed, but we are so pleased to hear this violin and piano version by August Wilhelmj. Absolutely gorgeous composition. Thank you, Julian, and your wonderful pianist, Chelsea Wang, for your exquisite playing. Coming up with a program for rec-- your recital can be quite challenging, or exciting for soloists, I think. So, how do you go about choosing your repertoire?
Julian Rhee: Yeah, it's, um-- I feel like picking a program, there's always that duality of wanting to pick pieces that you know that you can play them well and you can play them convincingly because you connect with them. But then there's also that other part that you-you want to be ambitious, you want to try something that kind of pushes you outside of your comfort zone.
Um, and I think, with this program in particular, it was a mixture of Wagner, for example, being an old favorite and then Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns actually being pieces that while many people do know the melody, for example, they're not pieces that I feel like are played in their entirety super often. So, Chelsea and I really thought we'd put something together that was both very exciting, but also a challenge for both of us.
Chee-Yun: Sure. Oh, I'm so excited to hear, especially-- I mean, actually, both. Tchaikovsky, because I remember your Tchaikovsky concerto at the Johansen Competition very, very well. Like, as if it just happened, even though it was five years ago. [chuckles] Well, let's go ahead and listen to Julian Rhee and pianist Chelsea Wang playing Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d’un lieu cher.
[MUSIC - Tchaikovsky: Souvenir d’un lieu cher]
Chee-Yun: That was Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher, performed beautifully by Julian Rhee and pianist Chelsea Wang. So Julian, I am so happy to have you right here in studio. Any chance that maybe our listeners could hear you in-person in New York City?
Julian Rhee: So, I'm super excited to be sharing that starting in 2024, I'll be joining Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's Bowers program and so as part of that three-year residency, I'll be performing in New York often at Alice Tully Hall, so I'll be sure to be sharing more performances that'll be in New York, because I'd love to see more people out here.
Chee-Yun: Oh, what a treat that will be for our listeners. And you-- they will get to hear you beautiful playing and your beautiful violin.
Julian Rhee: Absolutely. I've been super lucky the past nine months, although it feels like a lot longer that I've been playing on the 1699, Lady Tennant Stradivarius and this is on extended loan through the efforts of Bein & Fushi violin shop in Chicago, and the Stradivari Society as well as the Mary B. Galvin Foundation. It's kind of one of the situations-- I'm sure you can relate, you have a Ruggeri from way, way back, and these violins, they have a life of their own and I feel like I've been learning from playing the violin. It's changing, so I'm reacting to it. All these-these past several months have been a lot for me to process and figure out as, um-- figure who I am.
Chee-Yun: Oh, you're playing has-- I knew there was something even more incredible about your artistry, but I definitely could see that this-- Lady Tennant?
Julian Rhee: The Lady Tennant.
Chee-Yun: What year was it again?
Julian Rhee: 1699.
Chee-Yun: 1699. Beautiful Strad, congratulations-
Julian Rhee: Thank you very much.
Chee-Yun: -on many fronts and can't wait to hear you more in person in New York City.
Julian Rhee: Absolutely.
Chee-Yun: Well, guess what? We are going to hear more from beautiful violinist Julian Rhee and wonderful pianist, Chelsea Wang after the short break.
We are back. It's the Young Artist Showcase on WQXR, underwritten by the McGraw Family Foundation. I am Chee-Yun here tonight with Violinist Julian Rhee. Before the break we heard Souvenir d'un lieu cher, a set of three lovely pieces for violin and piano written by Tchaikovsky.
Julian, your interpretation of Tchaikovsky music as a 17 year old at the Johansen competition was incredibly impressive [chuckles] and now it is just next level. After all, I mean, you're a very smart person, you're a presidential scholar and was accepted to study at Harvard, and I wonder if your intellect has anything to do with how you approach music or how you analyze music?
Julian Rhee: I think there's definitely an aspect of performance, as I'm sure you can understand, that we'd have to obviously spend a lot of time analyzing the music that we play, figuring out, parsing it out. But then I-- for me actually, the hardest part has been that aspect beyond the intellect, the aspect of connecting to that next part of your heart and figuring out what kind of emotions you want to convey, because actually I find it very easy to get super caught up in the intellectual part of playing, right, and-and knowing, "Okay, I'm going to use this much bow, I'm going to plan out this kind of phrasing," and then it becomes very easy for it to not feel that it's just coming very naturally.
Actually that last piece of performance that has to just almost seem like you're making it up on the spot, it's just coming from within, that has been the hardest part, I feel like, for me in terms of-- with performance, beyond those steps of the intellectual parts.
Chee-Yun: Wow. But I'm sure it was very difficult for you, especially for your parents, [chuckles] when you had to say no to Harvard.
Julian Rhee: It definitely gives some bragging rights-
Julian Rhee: -but I do think my family was super supportive in terms of me knowing that if I took that academic route, I think I felt I was going to give up too big a piece of myself that I knew I'd spent too much time doing and something I loved doing. Because in the academic sphere, I don't think there was anything in particular that I was super passionate about. It was really music that spoke. It was definitely a hard decision, but that transition from high school to college, that little switch of feeling that I chose music, that was a big step for me actually when I came into school.
Chee-Yun: I knew you were incredibly mature back then, and now I feel like I'm talking to a master.
Chee-Yun: Well, speaking of multifaceted and very intellectual, and yet passionate musicians, we'll close tonight's Young Artist Showcase with a brilliant violin sonata written by Camille Saint-Saëns. In addition to composing and enjoying a career as one of the most outstanding pianists of his day, Saint-Saëns wrote poetry and plays, as well as criticism, edited Baroque music, and was a keen astronomer. Julian, what speaks to you about this piece?
Julian Rhee: The Saint-Saëns particular, I think, it opens with these-- the movement being super brooding, it's very gloomy, and then the second movement is, I think, the pinnacle of Saint-Saëns, it is best in terms of beauty. And then, honestly, the last two movements, although technically he writes the first two sections as one movement and the last two sections as another movement, the last two parts, I just think it brings out the most fun in violin playing. I think you'd think sometimes it's easy to forget that one of the best parts of what we do is just having fun on stage.
And so those last two parts are just fireworks. It's so much fun to perform, and it's one of those pieces that, it's hard to know exactly how it's gonna go in the performance just because the last two sections are super-fast, very virtuosic. So obviously, Chelsea and I are eyeing each other a little bit on how fast we're gonna take the last movement, but it's-it's so much fun, and I-I feel like it brings out what I love most about violin playing.
Chee-Yun: I've always felt that way about your playing. You make it seem so natural and so fun and easy, and yet I know these parts. When you're-when you're-- what you're playing, the two movements, I mean, the technical part of it is very challenging for any violinist.
Julian Rhee: I prom-yeah, I promise what's going through my head is a lot more panic than it seems like. [laughs]
Chee-Yun: Well, can't wait to hear this. Let's hear Julian Rhee and pianist Chelsea Wong playing the Saint-Saëns, sonata number 1 in D minor.
[MUSIC - Saint-Saëns: Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor]
Chee-Yun: That was the brilliant Saint-Saëns Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, played unbelievably by violinist Julian Rhee and pianist Chelsea Wang. That is a-- quite a piano part as well, isn't it?
Julian Rhee: She's got a lot on her plate.
Chee-Yun: Julian, thank you so much for sharing your recital recording. And thank you so much for being with us here tonight at the WQXR studios.
Julian Rhee: Thank you so much.
Chee-Yun: That completes this week's edition of the McGraw family's Young Artists Showcase, which is generously underwritten on WQXR, by the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. Here is Terry McGraw with more.
Terry McGraw: Good evening, everyone. It's great to be with you and it's always great being with the Young Artists Showcase and to hear these really wonderful and inspiring musicians as they continue to share their incredible gifts with us every week. I can't wait to hear the fabulous talent coming up on the showcase, and I am so pleased to be able to support the series all through it's well over four decades on WQXR. And there's so much more to come.
Chee-Yun: Thank you, Terry. Join us again next week to hear more talented young musicians on another edition of the Young Artists Showcase. Many thanks to WQXR program producers, Laura Boyman and Max Fine and our generous program underwriter is our Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. I am Chee-Yun, good night.
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