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Violin master centre stage

Violinist Nikki Chooi performs with the Victoria Symphony on April 16. - Submitted Photo
Violinist Nikki Chooi performs with the Victoria Symphony on April 16.
— image credit: Submitted Photo

The Victoria Symphony is performing a special spring concert in Qualicum Beach on April 16 and the musical program of Mozart, Rossini and Schubert will feature one of Vancouver Island’s up and coming violinists.

Nikki Chooi started playing the violin when he was just four years old and is about to graduate from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he has been honing his skills over the last five years.

During his education he has had many performances with some of the best orchestras and artists in North America.

When the 22-year-old performs Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre he will be playing a 1729 Guaneri del Gesu. The $4.2 million instrument is on generous loan to him from the Canada Council of the Arts Instrument Bank.

Some of the world’s most famous violinists have preferred Guaneris to Stradivaris, and Chooi is one of them.

He has been playing the instrument exclusively for three years and critics claim he is the master of it. He said it will be difficult when he has to give it back in a few months because he treasures the instrument.

“It is every violinist’s dream to play on an instrument like this. You get a high on that. Every time I play, it think it is something great I am playing on. I have to give it up in August … then I will re-audition for the same instrument.”

Chooi said when he first got the violin, it was scary to have in his possession.

“It’s like taking care of a baby … you take really good care of it. After a while you get used to it but I never let it out my sight.”

When asked if the instrument feels like it has its own soul, he admitted that he definitely thinks about how many people have played the instrument before him.

He said it is a far cry from the violin his parents rented for him from Long & McQuade when he first started out.

Chooi said when he travels from Philadelphia to Vancouver Island he will carry the violin with him on the plane.

The concert under the baton of Giuseppe Peitraroia is being hosted by patrons of the arts Eric and Shirley Charman who split their time between Victoria and Qualicum Beach.

Chooi said the Charmins have been supportive of his musical growth since he was young.

“I have been invited to their house on various occasions to entertain their guests.  It has lead to valuable performance experiences for me and my brother.”

In fact it was Charmin who introduced Chooi to one of the world’s most respected violinist masters, Pinchas Zukerman.

A phenomenon in the world of music for four decades Zukerman’s musical genius, prodigious technique and unwavering artistic standards are a marvel to audiences and critics.

Devoted to the next generation of musicians, he has inspired younger artists with his magnetism and passion.

His devotion to teaching has resulted in innovative programs in London, New York, China, Israel and Ottawa.

When Chooi was just nine years old, Charmin had him and his little brother Timothy perform at his home and he said he and his guests were so impressed with their Bach double concerto that he wanted to promote their musical pursuits.

“One day I phoned Pinchas Zukerman in Ottawa and I said Mr. Zukerman I think this guy Nickki Chooi is going to go places but he just needs encouragement and touching up,” Charmin recalled.

He said at first Zukerman was reluctant and suggested Chooi wait a few more years before the violin prodigy applied to his summer school in Ottawa but Charmin was persistent.

“I said Mr. Zukerman I am not interested in waiting that long.  We think you should see him soon.  He finally condescended to allow a wireless interview which I arranged at the University of Victoria.  An hour after the interview Mr. Zukerman phoned and said get him down here.”

Charmin said that summer Chooi attended Zukerman’s summer school and since then has never looked back.

Charmin was also instrumental in getting the younger Timothy together with Zukerman and the brothers are both students of the Curtis Institute of Music.

Charmin admitted that he has been good at recognizing young talent when he is promoting the Victoria Conservatory of Music and he predicts the two siblings will eventually end up in many of the world’s most famous music halls.

As for the upcoming concert the Charman’s are hosting he said conductor Pietraroia also has a bright future and Qualicum Beach is lucky to have such a high calibre concert here.

Tickets for the April 16 concert are $33 and are available at Mulberry Bush Bookstores.

 

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