Internationally celebrated violinist YI-JIA SUSANNE HOU is the first violinist ever to capture 3 Gold Medals with unanimous decisions at international violin competitions: Concours International Long-Thibaud (France, 1999), Lipizer International Violin Competition (Italy, 1999) and Sarasate International Violin Competition (Spain, 1997). HOU is also the first and only musician to win the Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank Competition for 2 consecutive terms, and would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts and the anonymous donor for their support through the loan of the 1729 "ex-Heath" Guarneri del Gesù fine stringed instrument. This $5 million instrument is coupled with a priceless bow made by her father, Alec Hou.
HOU is the featured violin soloist on Atom Egoyan's film "ADORATION" with music composed by Mychael Danna, which won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at Festival de Cannes, and received a special citation in the Best Canadian Feature Film category at the Toronto International Film Festival. ADORATION will open in Theatres February 2009. HOU was also the subject of a CBC 'The National' Documentary: "Shanghai Sensation", revisiting her childhood in Shanghai and following her musical journey with her father, Alec Hou, a renowned violin pedagogue in China. A lead violinist for three seasons now with BOWFIRE, HOU has been seen on PBS and the TODAY SHOW amongst the top virtuoso violinists and fiddlers today in each genre of modern string playing.
HOU has toured the globe and is a regular soloist with renowned orchestras such as The London Philharmonic, Radio France, Monte Carlo Philharmonic, SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, WDR Cologne, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Toronto Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Chicago Sinfonietta, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Tokyo Philharmonic, Osaka-Kansai Philharmonic, Shanghai Broadcasting Orchestra, Czech National Orchestra, and Slovenia Radio-Television Orchestra.
Born into a musical family, HOU had music surrounding her all her life. Both her mother and father are violinists, and thus at the tender age of 4, she began studying violin with her father, Alec Hou. Throughout her musical education, her father, Dorothy DeLay, Cho Liang Lin and Naoko Tanaka have been her strongest influences. She holds her Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and the highly acclaimed Artist Diploma Program from The Juilliard School. YI-JIA SUSANNE HOU is an active advocate of cultural exchange and musical education.
“She’s absolutely phenomenal…”
—Lord Yehudi Menuhin
"I was overwhelmed by the sensitivity of her playing...she is an extraordinary artist. The violin plays a huge part in the soundtrack of the film, and her detailed and highly charged performance is full of emotional nuance."
LING TUNG has won consistent high praise on three continents for his inspired performances and for his rapport with the many orchestras he has conducted. In the U.S. he has served as guest conductor for the New York Philharmonic and for the symphonies of Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Honolulu. His performances at the Grand Teton Music Festival have been acclaimed for a quarter of a century. In Europe he has led the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, the Royal Philharmonic, the Vienna Symphony, and the radio orchestras of Berlin, Hamburg, and Stuttgart. His recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2 with the London Philharmonia has been hailed as “a version to cherish.”
In Asia he achieved great success as music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic and as guest conductor of the KBS National Orchestra of Korea and the Shanghai, Central (Beijing), Osaka, and Seoul philharmonics. He was honoured as the first Chinese conductor to perform in Japan with the Japan Philharmonic, which he led on two Southeast tours.
Ling Tung has devoted considerable energy toward building and founding orchestras—the American Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra became one of the leading orchestras of Europe under his leadership, and the Chinese Virtuoso Orchestra, which he established in 1989, created a sensation.
As founder of the Philharmonia Orchestra of Philadelphia he was recognized as “a conductor second to none.”
Violin Concerto in d minor, Op.47
The idea of writing a violin concerto may have been planted in Sibelius’ mind by violinist Willy Burmester in the spring of 1902, for he wrote Sibelius the following year to inquire whether the concerto was finished and offered himself as soloist. Burmester was to have received the dedication and first performance, but Sibelius behaved badly over the affair, approaching mediocre violinist Viktor Novacek to play the premiere at a time before Burmester was available. Burmester was naturally upset, but Sibelus was determined to go forward, despite the fact that he had not yet finished the Concerto.
It was difficult for Sibelius to complete anything on time due to his moods and Bacchic revels. The composer’s delays and the inability of Novacek to master the solo part in time resulted in several postponements of the Concerto’s premiere. When it finally took place on February 8, 1904, with Sibelius conducting, the piece received mixed reviews, but it was agreed that Novacek was ill-equipped to handle its difficulties.
Sibelius found much that he wanted to revise, and despite Bermester’s offer to “launch” the Concerto with several performances in Helsinki in October 1904, the composer was unwilling to take on such a deadline. His revision was completed by the end of June 1905, but arrangements were made for another violinist—Karl Halir, also not up to Bermester’s caliber—to premiere the revised version in Berlin with no less a conductor than Richard Strauss. Again reviews were mixed—Joseph Joachim, who had been Brahms’ advisor on violin matters, not surprisingly weighed in with the detractors.
Wounded at being passed over again, Bermester kept to his threat never to play the Concerto, though Sibelius did send him a score when it finally appeared in print. The dedication, as it turned out, went to a seventeen-year-old violinist Ferenc von Vecsey, who played the work in Berlin and Vienna in 1910. It was not until the 1930s that the Concerto achieved popular appeal.
A violinist himself, Sibelius had dreams as a youth of being a virtuoso. Sibelius scholar Erik Tawaststjerna suggests that much of the Romantic nostalgia in the Concerto reflects the composer’s unfulfilled dreams. The poetic opening unfolds slowly in the dark-hued colours that have become associated with Finland even without reference to programmatic legends. The looseness of the sonata form reflects the concerto types of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Bruch rather than the more Classically oriented forms of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. A cadenza for the soloist, for example, serves as the development section. The ascendancy of the soloist throughout the work reflects Sibelius’ idea of what a concerto should be, a view he kept to the end of his life. In the last year of his life he commented that Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto (probably No.1) was “a symphonic unity where the violin plays a subordinate role. Quite the opposite of my view.”
In the slow movement the long violin cantilena begins in B-flat major after a series of wind passages in thirds has made tonal excursions. The contrasting middle section is based on the woodwind opening, now in the violins. When the orchestra returns to the cantilena theme, the solo violin provides intriguing counterpoint with “Romantic” leaps of sevenths and arpeggiated octaves.
The finale presents an obstinate rhythm, with the solo violin in its hefty lower register, possibly prompting Sir Donald Francis Tovey’s playful remark about “a polonaise for polar bears.” The remark might also pertain to the second theme, notable for its cross accents implying 6/8 within the actual ¾ meter. The movement is replete with violin acrobatics, which explode soon after the first theme’s presentation. Approaching a kind of rondo form, the finale was characterized by Sibelius as a “danse macabre,” which includes lighter moments alongside the dark as a proper “Dance of death” should.
Pablo de Sarasate
Carmen Fantasy, Op.25
Sarasate, Spanish violin virtuoso and composer, won international admiration for his playing, which was characterized by an unsurpassed sweetness of tone and purity, technical perfection, a wider vibrato than was common at the time, and a “frictionless” bow stroke. He dazzled audiences in every European city, as well as in Russia and North and South America. The esteem in which he was held by many composers is revealed by the surprising number of compositions dedicated to him: Bruch’s Second Violin Concerto and Scottish Fantasy, Saint-Saens’ First and Third violin concertos and Rondo Capriccioso, Lalo’s Violin Concerto and Symponie Espagnole, Dvorak’s Mazurek, op.49, Joachim’s Variations, op.11, and Wieniawski’s Second Violin Concerto. He was also one of the first violinists to make recordings—in 1904—which are remarkable despite the drawbacks of early recording techniques.
Sarasate was his best as a composer when he relied on folk tunes or other composers’ themes. His most popular compositions include Zigeunerweisn, op.20, and his four books of Spanische Tanze. His Carmen Fantasy, originally scored for violin and orchestra, is perhaps the best known of his myriad operatic fantasies. It provides a technical showcase while displaying his great ingenuity in adapting the famous tunes from Bizet’s Carmen. Particularly notable is Sarasate’s treatment of the “Habanera”—in cano between violin and orchestra and as the subject of a theme and variations. The work is divided into five basic sections set off by their tempo markings—fast-slow-slow-fast-slow.
The Zigeunerweisen or ‘Gypsy Airs” make use of the slow and fast contrasting sections (lassu and friss) that are traditional in Hungarian music and of the Gypsies who settled in Hungary. Sarasate’s first section emphasizes the elaborately ornamented, improvisatory style of Gypsy violin virtuosos. The second section, a lively dance with many interior repeated sections, displays Sarasate’s pyrotechnics for the violin—harmonics, left hand pizzicato, and a plethora of spiccato sixteenth notes.
Notes by: Jane Vial Jaffe