Encore: Violinists Natalie Rose Kress and Rachell Ellen Wong

(left to right) Rachell Ellen Wong, Natalie Rose Kress

Simone Dinnerstein: Hello, I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Tonight we are going to hear Natalie Rose Kress and Rachell Ellen Wong, two wonderful violinists who bridge the worlds of period performance practice and modern violin on this edition of The Young Artist Showcase.


The Young Artist Showcase has been generously underwritten by the Harold W McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation since 1978. I'm thrilled to continue the tradition of presenting talented young artists with these two incredible violinists. I first met violinist Natalie Rose Kress in November when we played together for a benefit for the Stockbridge Library and the Berkshires. I loved her generous approach to music making, and the fact that though she is steeped in period performance practice, she was open to a different approach in her collaboration with me.

Natalie, welcome.

Natalie Rose Kress: Thank you.

Simone Dinnerstein: Let's start the program playing that Mozart Sonata together. We will play the second movement of the Sonata in E minor, Köchel 304.

[Music - Natalie Kress and Simone Dinnerstein - Mozart: Sonata in E Minor, K 304]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was the second movement of Mozart: Sonata and E Minor for violin and piano Köchel 304 with my guest, Natalie Rose Kress, and myself, Simone Dinnerstein, at the piano.

Natalie, when did you become interested in playing Baroque violin?

Natalie Rose Kress: Well, uh, I started out freshman year just playing in the Baroque Ensemble with Arthur Hayes, the harpsichord professor there.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes.

Natalie Rose Kress: And I did that for about six years of the time I was there. And, uh, then after school, stuck around Long Island. I was teaching a lot. I was sort of contracting for local ensembles in the area. And then I noticed I started getting way better gigs on, uh, period stuff. And I was thinking, "Hmm, this is really fun, uh, and I'm getting paid more. Uh, maybe I should try to get better at it-"

Simone Dinnerstein: Uh-huh.

Natalie Rose Kress: "-and, you know, pursue it."

Simone Dinnerstein: Uh-huh.

Natalie Rose Kress: And so I thought, "Well, the only way to really improve is to go back to school." So I applied, um, to Juilliard, and I applied to Peabody, and ultimately ended up going to Julliard for a graduate diploma.

Simone Dinnerstein: Um, you have a particular interest in education and in bringing period instruments to the wider community, and you actually have a project with your dad.

Natalie Rose Kress: Mm-hmm.

Simone Dinnerstein: So, tell us about that.

Natalie Rose Kress: Yeah. Musicivic Incorporated started around 2017. Um, my dad is a, um, business technology person and I'm a musician. And together, we try to think of solutions for, um, helping chamber music freelancers build a viable and sustainable career, as well as help communities bring music to small towns.

Simone Dinnerstein: Very interesting. That's wonderful. Um, so this next piece that we're going to hear is from a performance by one of the ensembles that was created through this. Is that correct?

Natalie Rose Kress: Yeah.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah.

Natalie Rose Kress: So, this is Musicivic Baroque, and this was our Gotham Early Music Scene, Midtown Concert series debut. So, this was our New York debut.

Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful. Okay. So let's listen to you playing this Biber Mystery Sonata.

[Music - Musicivic Baroque - Heinrich Biber: Mystery Sonata I in D minor, The Annunciation]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was Heinrich Biber's Mystery Sonata I, Annunciation, performed by Musicivic Baroque with our guest, Natalie Rose Kress on violin, Robert Warner on harpsichord, and Elena Kauffman on cello.

So tell us a little bit about this Ensemble called Relic.

Natalie Rose Kress: Sure. So, Relic is a group that I started with five other friends. Um, we all went to Julliard, some of us at different times, but we found each other, um, through seeing each other at gigs, um, Handel and Haydn Society et cetera. And we thought-- this was sort of towards the end of COVID, um, I want to say January 2022, I think is when we first initiated the idea. And, um, and so we just, you know, we liked each other and we thought, "Hey, we should make a group so like we can play music we wanna play, and we can hangout together.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Natalie Rose Kress: And, uh, it's been really fun. It's been going great. We do about two themed programs a year, and we're just building every year.

Simone Dinnerstein: So tell us what we're gonna hear with- with your group, Relic.

Natalie Rose Kress: This was a piece that I lead the-the Corelli Concerto Grosso in D major, and this was from our very first concert in September of 2022 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Simone Dinnerstein: Excellent. Okay, well, let's listen to this.

[MUSIC - Relic Ensemble - Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D major, op. 6 no. 4]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was Corelli's Concerto Grosso in D major, op. 6 no. 4. And we heard the first and sixth movements of that played by Relic Ensemble with our guest, Natalie Rose Kress. It's time for a quick break now, then I'll be back with more Baroque beauties here on the McGraw Family's Young Artists Showcase.

Welcome back. Tonight, we are listening to violinists Natalie Rose Kress and Rachell Ellen Wong. I first heard Rachell around seven years ago when she participated in a concert that I presented at PS 321 in Brooklyn. I was struck by the freedom in her playing and by her ability to play fiddle as well as violin. There was a certain type of infectious joy in her music making that I will never forget. Since then, Rachell has moved on to develop a passion for period performance practice. Like Natalie, she has had stellar training in both modern and Baroque violin. She made history in 2020 as the first Baroque artist to be awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant. And she has an active performing career on both the Baroque and modern violin.

Welcome to WQXR, Rachell.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Thank you so much.

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, we're going to be, um, exploring different selections of recordings of recent performances that you gave. And the first that we're gonna start with is this very joyful Allegro movement of Vivaldi's Summer from the Four Seasons, which you are playing and leading the-the Heifetz Chamber Orchestra. And when I listened to it, I noticed, like, I don't know, unusual instruments, or there were some-some things that I had never heard before. So, do you know what I'm talking about?

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yeah. Um, I was, um, at Heifetz International Music Institute, which is a festival for modern young string players.

Simone Dinnerstein: Where is that, by the way?

Rachell Ellen Wong: In Staunton, Virginia.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, okay.

Rachell Ellen Wong: At Mary Baldwin University.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay.

Rachell Ellen Wong: And when I performed the Four Seasons, usually, I always ask for a theorbo-

Simone Dinnerstein: Uh-huh.

Rachell Ellen Wong: -to play in the orchestra. And there wasn't a theorbo available, but there was an arch guitar.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, what is that?

Rachell Ellen Wong: That is, uh, an instrument that was, um, created, um, by the person who was playing--

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, really? Like, so it's a modern instrument?

Rachell Ellen Wong: It's a modern instrument. It has extra strings. It's a little longer than a regular guitar.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Um, but he-he could get this kind of sound that I wanted.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, wonderful.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yeah. [laughs]

Simone Dinnerstein: Wow. And-and there's a lot of kind of free sort of sliding around or. [laughs]

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yeah, that's, uh, my interpretation. I've, you know, I've had a lot of training from so many different teachers, and the one thing, I've taken a lot away from all my teachers, but the one thing that I noticed is that everybody has their opinion and nobody agrees.

Simone Dinnerstein: [laughs]

Rachell Ellen Wong: So, I'm just gonna do whatever I want. [laughs]

Simone Dinnerstein: That's great. Well, well, let's, enough talking, let's listen to you play, um, this Vivaldi.

[MUSIC - Rachell Ellen Wong - Vivaldi: Summer (L'estate)]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was the allegro from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the movement called Summer played and led by our guest, Rachell Ellen Wong on violin. And she's playing here with the Heifetz Chamber Orchestra.

So I mentioned when I first met you, in fact, the only time I met you, but it really left an impression on me when I heard you at PS 321 all those years ago, you did some fiddle playing in that concert, and, um, I assumed that that was, like, part of what you do all the time, but you've since told me no. But-but the next piece that we're gonna play is, um, kind of related to that. Tell us about it.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yeah. Um, this is Niel Gow's, uh, Lament for the Death of his Second Wife.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: And, um, Niel Gow is probably the most famous Scottish fiddler during his time and now. I mean, he lived in the 18th century. And he wrote this, as the title says, for the death of his second wife, and it's-- it tears at your heart when you listen to it.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: And I also added a theorbo and a baroque bass.

Simone Dinnerstein: So did you write the arrangement? Did you make the arrangement yourself?

Rachell Ellen Wong: Um, we kind of made it as we were playing it.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: It was -- it's always different. [chuckles]

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Um, but I mean, the-the tune is Gow.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Um, the ornaments are Scottish fiddle ornaments that you can-- just like a baroque piece, you kind of choose in the moment.

Simone Dinnerstein: I see. Okay. Let's listen to it.

[MUSIC - Rachell Ellen Wong ft. Twelfth Night - Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife, played by our guest, Rachell Ellen Wong, on violin, with her group, Twelfth Night, consisting of Joshua Stauffer on theorbo, Logan May on bass, and Nathan Whittaker on cello. And thank you to Ricardo Laranja from Utah State University for providing that recording.

So the next piece on the program is Tartini's notorious Devil's Trill Sonata. And I just had to read, um, what Tartini wrote about the Sonata 'cause it's really wonderful. Um, he wrote, "One night in the year 1713, I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished. My new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful played with such great art and intelligence as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy?

I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted. My breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain, the music, which I at this time composed, is indeed the best that I ever wrote. And I still call it the Devil's Trill, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would've destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me."

Rachell Ellen Wong: Wow.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. So, um, let's-let's listen to this.

[MUSIC - Rachell Ellen Wong - Tartini: Devil's Trill Sonata]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was our guest, Rachell Ellen Wong, playing Tartini's Devil's Trill Sonata. So, Rachell, that was your own arrangement of Tartini's Devil's Trill, right? There was something missing in there that I normally hear.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Well, I'm so glad that you told the story behind, uh, why Tartini wrote it, because if you can remember, there is no mention of anybody playing an continuo part-

Simone Dinnerstein: No.

Rachell Ellen Wong: -to the devil-

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes.

Rachell Ellen Wong: -playing the violin. And, um, so that's why I wanted to arrange it for a solo violin,

And, yeah, I've-I've gotten-- people have loved it and people have gotten mad at me for it.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, really?

Rachell Ellen Wong: Which I really love, actually. Like a lot of people have been like, "This is- this is sacrilege." But I love that. I could get that.

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, that seems particularly devilish of you.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yeah.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah. To conclude, we will hear you playing with Twelfth Night, the ensemble that you co-founded. First of all, I have to ask you about the name. Is it from the Shakespeare?

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay, so what- so it's like a crazy- a crazy night?

Rachell Ellen Wong: Well, you know, it's co-founded by me and my musical partner, David Belkovski.

Simone Dinnerstein: Uh-huh.

Rachell Ellen Wong: And if you know the-the play Twelfth Night, it's about the twins.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes.

Rachell Ellen Wong: And we thought that was very fitting.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: And also the quote, if music be, you know--

Simone Dinnerstein: The food and love.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah.

Rachell Ellen Wong: So it was- we just thought it would, it was the perfect name.

Simone Dinnerstein: So in this-this selection that you've chosen, tell us about it. It's actually not really necessarily featuring you so much. It's very much, uh, for this mezzo soprano.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yes. Um, it's from Handel's opera Serse. Uh, Ombra Mai Fu is probably the most famous aria or one of Handel's most famous arias out of all his operas.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: And it's actually funny because it flopped when he first premiered it.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Um, and then it was rediscovered in the 19th century.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Um, and Xenia is-is the singer is one of the most special voices I've ever heard. And it's- and she's also part of Twelfth Night, and it's so funny because it's the most beautiful music, and they're just singing about admiring a tree. I mean, which trees are beautiful-

Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah, they are.

Rachell Ellen Wong: -but just if you didn't know Italian, it's-it's kind of surprising.

Simone Dinnerstein: Wow. Well, let's listen to Ombra Mai Fu.

[MUSIC - Xenia Puskarz Thomas and Twelfth Night - Handel: Ombra Mai Fu]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was Handel's Ombra Mai Fu sung by Xenia Puskarz Thomas, mezzo soprano, with Twelfth Night, the ensemble that was founded by our guest, Rachell Ellen Wong. So, um, it's been such a pleasure having both of you on our show today, uh, Natalie Rose Kress and Rachell Ellen Wong. And I was doing my research to be totally prepared and reading your bios. And I noticed that both of you list at the very end that you have both husbands and pets, and, um, I was very curious about that.

So, uh, Natalie, tell us about wh-who's your pet?

Natalie Rose Kress: My pet husband you mean?


Just kidding. Um, my pet is Henry Davies. He's a Yorkie mix.

Simone Dinnerstein: A Yorkie mix.

Natalie Rose Kress: Yeah.

Simone Dinnerstein: Lovely.

Natalie Rose Kress: Mm-hmm.

Simone Dinnerstein: And, Rachell.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Um, I have two rabbits named Shuji and Bobi.

Simone Dinnerstein: And do these animals respond to the violin?

Natalie Rose Kress: Well, my husband is a bass player?

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh.

Natalie Rose Kress: And Henry has the most hilarious reaction to the bass. He just barks and he thinks it's like a to- like a-another animal that he's gonna play with. It's really cute.

Simone Dinnerstein: And, I mean, yorkies are really small, right?

Natalie Rose Kress: Yeah.

Simone Dinnerstein: So-

Natalie Rose Kress: Yeah.

Simone Dinnerstein: -the base is so huge.

Natalie Rose Kress: Yeah.

Simone Dinnerstein: That's funny. And what about you, Rachell?

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yeah, they have very particular tastes. Um, they both really love to practice with me.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh.

Rachell Ellen Wong: But if the repertoire and the violin is not-- so I-I was practicing Shostakovich concerto-

Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah.

Rachell Ellen Wong: -and, uh, that was not, uh--

Simone Dinnerstein: They didn't like that.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yes, it was too loud. But a-anytime there's any gut strings, it's-

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Rachell Ellen Wong: -like they love it.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, they do?

Rachell Ellen Wong: Yeah, I'm not making that up.

Natalie Rose Kress: That's so interesting. Yeah, it's-it's so nice.

Simone Dinnerstein: I have a dog, an old English Sheepdog called Daisy. And Daisy loves Schubert. She really hates Charles Ives.


Rachell Ellen Wong: Oh. That's so funny.

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, it was really great having you on the show today.

Rachell Ellen Wong: Thank you so much.

Natalie Rose Kress: Yeah. Pleasure.

Simone Dinnerstein: 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's 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 its well over four decades on WQXR, and there's so much more to come.

Simone Dinnerstein: Thank you, Terry, and special thanks to our WQXR program producers Laura Boyman and Max Fine. Our session engineer is Irene Trudel. And our generous program underwriter is the Harold W McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Good night.


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