For sisters, chamber music performance is family affair

The Baltimore Sun

Performing chamber music with intimate friends and relatives is an experience usually reserved for amateurs, but not so this weekend at Christ Episcopal Church. Howard County's own Wonju Kim, violinist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will be joined by her family and friends at 3 p.m. Sunday in a concert that features Schubert's "Trout" Quintet and Mendelssohn's Piano Sextet in D.

"It's a family affair," says Ronald Mutchnik, co-founder of Sundays at Three, the concert series sponsoring Wonju Kim and her sisters Won Hee Kim, cellist, and Wonmi Kim, pianist. The three formed a trio as children in Seoul.

"We toured the world as kids," says Wonju. Because they have played together for so many years, "we can pick up very quickly now," even though they no longer live close to one another.

The Kim sisters are joined by violinist Willem Blokbergen, violist Noah Chaves and Robert Barney on double bass, none of whom are strangers to the Kim family. Wonju has played with Chaves and Barney in the BSO for more than 18 years, while Blokbergen, concertmaster of the Bologna Symphony Orchestra, is married to Wonmi.

"It's easier to work with each other because we know how the others play so well," Wonju said.

Mendelssohn is a fitting choice for the Kim sisters, who as children performed in Nairobi, Kenya; the composer and his sister Fanny, both accomplished musicians by the time they were teenagers, were the featured attractions at the family's regular Sunday musicales attended by Berlin's cultural elite.

The sextet, written for performance in the Mendelssohn home, is the work of the 15-year-old composer just completing his musical apprenticeship. Its four movements glisten with Mendelssohn's characteristic blend of youthful vigor and refined elegance. Wonju relates that "this work was unknown to all of us." Its unusual instrumentation (violin, two violas, cello, double bass and piano) intrigued the performers.

Schubert's "Trout" Quintet is also the work of a young man; it was written when the composer was vacationing in Steyr, Austria, in his early twenties, apparently commissioned by an amateur cellist named Sylvester Paumgartner.

Paumgartner asked several things of the composer: one, that he include a double bass in the ensemble (not customary in a chamber setting), and two, that he base the quintet on one of Schubert's well-known songs, called "Die Forelle" ("The Trout").

The humorous song about an unlucky little trout shows up in the fourth movement of the quintet, where it is developed in variations on the original theme. The "Trout" Quintet is "chock full of hummable tunes," according to Mutchnik.

"It's a perfect combination of melody, radiant harmony and rhythmic mirth," said Mutchnik. "It was performed on our very first season 11 years ago, and it was high time that we brought this popular work back to our audience."

Wonju looks forward to performing these chamber masterpieces Sunday. "It's such a treat to play chamber music where you have your own voice to express," she said.

Tickets for Sunday's performance are available at the door: prices are $15 for adults and $10 for unaccompanied full-time students. Children under 18 are free with a paying adult. For more information, visit www.SundaysAtThree .org.

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