Piedmont Chamber Music Festival returns to PCA July 20 – 24
By Lou Fancher
After COVID shut down the Piedmont Chamber Music Festival festival for two years, the event resumes July 20 – 24 with three jubilant, every-other-night concerts at Piedmont Center for the Arts. There is profound pleasure and sweet significance as a hometown talent returns to town with a dynamic group of established and rising performers: Piedmont High School graduate and violinist Wayne Lee and his wife Juliana Han, a pianist, launched the Piedmont Chamber Music Festival in 2016.
Lee and Han, who are married and live in Seattle where they work and raise their young family, are recognized talents. Lee moved to Piedmont with his family in fourth grade, where some of his family continues to reside. His first violin lessons were in Chinatown and while taking part in the Piedmont schools music system, he served as concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra before attending Juilliard. He is a member of two chamber ensembles.
Han earned honors as a pianist from an early age before pivoting to pursue biochemistry and law at Harvard University. In 2012, she left her job as a corporate attorney to attend Juilliard, where she earned a doctorate degree. While continuing to perform as a professional musician, she is a lawyer at Amazon.
Joining them in the festival are Spanish-born violinist Francisco Fullana, violist Paul Laraia; violist Teng Li, cellists Clancy Newman and Deborah Pae, and violinist Jasmine Lin. The concerts sweeping range incudes works by Beethoven, Prokofiev, Mendelssohn (Wed.), Gabriel Fauré, Paul Wiancko, Arnold Schoenberg (Fri.), William Bolcom, Derrick Skye, Clara Schumann, and Robert Schumann (Sun.).
The concert on Friday night is presented in memory of longtime festival volunteer Susan Freeman.“Susan ran our box office for our first three summers, and, even though we didn’t know her beforehand, she immediately made an indelible impression,” says Lee. “She was unbelievably gregarious, had an outsized presence at our box office, and was perfectly suited for that role. She greeted audience members with great cheer and a huge smile. She made sure we heard her opinion when she saw things that she thought needed to be done differently, and we valued those opinions. Susan looked out for everyone. She would take the extra food from our post-concert receptions and deliver them to homeless shelters. She was simply a wonderful person and such a valued part of our team. We were devastated when she lost her fight with cancer, but are grateful for this chance to honor her in a small way.”
Each musician on this year’s festival roster brings to the stage recognizable artistic expression and signature technical prowess. Asked to speak about just two of the performers — violist Paul Laraia and violinist Francisco Fullana — as examples of the artists with whom Lee and Han invite and are excited to introduce to Piedmont audiences, Lee says, “Paul is one of the great violists of our generation. He is doing such important work in the music world as an advocate, both by himself and as a member of the Catalyst Quartet: they’ve been huge supporters of BIPOC voices in classical music. As a first prize winner of the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition, his craft is elite, and he is a serious and thoughtful artist.”
Lee says what he admires most about Fullana is his “omnivorousness.” Fullana excels in playing core violin repertory, but also delivers rare, highly sensitive gifts as a player with Baroque and early music ensembles and as a performer of new music. “I bet his performances of Beethoven and Mendelssohn will be informed by his early music work, and his role in the Clara and Robert Schumann pieces will give the audience a chance to hear his beautiful and highly original artistic voice.”
One work, Paul Wiancko’s A Sanguine Clockwork, a deceptively challenging piece requiring close listening and immediate responsiveness between the musicians, will be performed together by Lee, Laraia and Newman for the first time. “We all know Paul and admire him and his music, and my colleagues in this piece are amazing performers of new music,” Lee says. “This piece has so much groove. One challenge might be feeling and creating that pulsating sense of rhythm together in a very short amount of time.”
While “finding the groove” is no small feat, overcoming challenges is something everyone can relate to after enduring the hurdles and stressors of the last two years. Most people have come to recognize that quick fixes are not reality. “We are all living under changed and difficult circumstances; the social bonds that we hold dear are a little harder to nurture,” concludes Lee. “It wasn’t easy for the festival to go dark for two summers. But the bonds that Juliana and I and our past festival participants have formed with the Piedmont community are something that all of us cherish. The music and joy that will arrive in Piedmont next week will keep making those bonds stronger.”