To say it was a treat for fans of classical music when the Victoria Symphony under the baton of conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia performed at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre on April 16 is an understatement.
The performance of stellar orchestral playing by the symphony was even more exciting in the first half of the evening thanks to a guest performance by violin virtuoso Nikki Chooi.
One of Vancouver Island’s up and coming violinists, Chooi played the music of Mozart and the cadenzas he composed himself were technically brilliant.
Chooi’s playing shined through and his exciting solo violin performance showed off his talent.
His brief cadenzas drew the audience in and highlighted his superb technical and musical abilities.
Chooi who has won many awards for his talent played on a 1729 Guaneri del Gesu on generous loan from the Canada Council of the Arts Instrument Bank.
Some of the world’s most famous violinists have preferred Guarneris to Stradivaris and Chooi is one of them.
He has been playing the $4.2 million violin for three years now and when Pietraroia introduced Chooi, he gave the audience a brief history on the famous Guaneri del Gesu and the great Italian family that made the instruments.
The conductor proud of his own Italian heritage admitted that it is hard to compare the Stradivaris to the Guarneris.
“I was talking to Nikki about it and he said Stradivarius people say they are finer and more symmetrical. The Guarneris are a little darker and a little edgier sounding but some violinists prefer them because it has got that edgier sound. The Stradivarius has a finer sound and for that it comes down to taste. For me its like comparing Ferraris and Lamborghini’s. I prefer the Ferrari but if someone were to offer me a Lamborghini I would be happy with either one,” he agreed.
Pietraroia who was also outstanding at the spring concert said Chooi who composed his own cadenzas has a bright future.
“We are proud of him and I know he will continue to do great things,” stated Pietraroia.
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.
He said it was at the Curtis Institute of Music where he wrote the cadenzas as part of his studies with leading Persian composer Behzad Ranjbaran.
Dr. Ranjbaran was born and raised in Iran. He came to the U.S. in 1974 and received a master’s and doctorate from the Juilliard School, studying composition with Joseph Schwantner, Vincent Persichetti, and David Diamond.
Chooi said he is lucky to be taking Ranjbaran’s course but admitted it took him quite a while to write the piece.
“I wrote five different versions and I was a little frustrated. I started in February. Eventually I took things from each of my five and made it work. At first the harmonies didn’t transition smoothy. I played them for my friends and after I presented them I finally got something that transitioned smoothly,” he said.
Chooi added that when he was playing in Qualicum Beach he was very comfortable with his cadenzas.
“I played it the first time in White Rock and it was nerve wracking,” he admitted. He agreed that when he performed here he was confident and at his best.
After Chooi wowed the audience with his Mozart concerto, he graciously chatted with some guests during the intermission before he had to rush away and prepare to fly back to Philadelphia.
Pietraroia also announced that Chooi will be attending the Julliard School in the fall where he will pursue his grad studies.
Chooi graduates in May and in August he has to give back the pricey Guaneri del Gesu so he is working on finding another instrument until he re-auditions for the precious violin he has grown fond of.
“I will probably borrow a teachers violin. I will make it work.”