By Mike Telin

Ida Kavafian“I’m looking forward to being there, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” violinist and 2014 Kent/Blossom Kulas Foundation Guest Artist Ida Kavafian said enthusiastically by telephone. “Keith Robinson is somebody I’ve worked with for years and he’s talked about hosting me at Kent/Blossom for some time. We finally were able to work out the dates and come up with a project that will be a lot of fun and beneficial to the students.”

On Thursday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Ludwig Recital Hall, Ida Kavafian will present a recital featuring music of Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Ernest Chausson. Joining Kavafian will be Korean pianist Yekwon Sunwoo and the Glauser String Quartet. A reception to meet and greet the artists will follow the performance. 

Since her founding membership in the new music group TASHI in the 1970’s, Kavafian has established herself as a versatile musician with a strong commitment to contemporary music. Kavafian has given world premieres of works by composers such as Toru Takemitsu and Michael Daugherty as well as touring with jazz greats Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis and noted Bluegrass composer/fiddler, Mark O’Connor.

As a chamber music player she has toured and recorded with the Guarneri, Orion and American Quartets and the Beaux Arts Trio, as well as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. She is co-founder of the ensemble OPUS ONE and since 1985 has been Artistic Director of the festival Music from Angel Fire, in New Mexico.

However, it became clear from the beginning of our conversation that Kavafian has a passion for teaching. “I enjoy teaching on every level, the rudimentary as well as with the more developed artist,” she said. As a teacher, Kavafian keeps quite busy serving on the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Bard College Conservatory and the Juilliard School.

It was through teaching that she first worked with pianist Yekwon Sunwoo. “I’ve worked with him for quite a few years, but first when he was a student at Curtis where he did a lot of playing with some of my students. I love the way he plays and in the past few years we’ve done a number of concerts together.”

Kavafian will begin her program with Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 5 in F, Op. 24 (“Spring”). “It is so beautiful. I played it a few times last year although I had not done it for quite a few years. It’s funny, because when you teach as much as I do you sort of lose track – have I played it or have I just taught it?” Kavafian describes the sonata as her “go-to” Beethoven sonata for students who haven’t played a lot of Beethoven. “It is one that I teach quite a bit so it’s very present in my mind. And because I hadn’t played it in quite a few years it’s been a lot of fun to revisit.”

The evening’s program continues with Richard Strauss’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat, Op. 18. “This is one of my favorite sonatas but honestly, the reason I chose it for this recital is that I love the way Yekwon plays it. He has a great sense of rubato and technique, which is a crucial combination that is needed for this piece. I taught it to him and when I heard him perform it with one of my students, I told him that someday I’d like to play it with him. We’ve played it a couple of times and it’s a joy. We’re able to play it at a tempo and with the freedom that it needs because of his amazing command of the instrument.”

Kavafian and Sunwoo will be joined by the Glauser String Quartet for Chausson’s Concert for violin, piano & string quartet in D, Op. 2., a piece that has special meaning to Kavafian. “Years and years ago I played it on my graduation recital at Juilliard. The group I played it with were all friends, and I thanked the men by making them colorful and fun ties. Daniel Phillips, who plays in the Orion Quartet, still has his, which I think is amazing because it’s now forty years later. It’s such an audience favorite and I look forward to playing it with this young string quartet and Yekwon.”

In addition to Thursday’s recital, Ida Kavafian will also be giving master classes, which she finds to be a very different animal from studio teaching. “It’s different from establishing a student-teacher relationship. When I do a master class, I like to listen to a big chunk of the person’s playing, and jot down a couple of key points. This helps me to form the session, as well as to summarize it at the end. You don’t want to give them too much information because getting caught in details doesn’t leave them with concrete things they can take away. The first thing you say should be something positive about something they did well. There’s always something you can say that gives them encouragement.”

Although she certainly enjoys her celebrated career, Ida Kavafian also finds it very important to have a well-rounded life. Kavafian and her husband, violist Steven Tenenbom, passionately pursue their hobby of breeding, training and showing prize-winning Hungarian Vizsla dogs under the kennel name, “Opus One Vizslas.” “I’m watching the puppy right now. She’s twelve weeks old and she’s trying to get into everything,” she said with a laugh.

Kavafian got her first Vizsla in the middle 1980’s and four years later, after purchasing a female, soon started her own line of pedigree of Vizslas. “It’s been really fun and I’ve met some wonderful people in the dog world. People have no idea what I do, they just know me through my dogs. Many people discover what I do, because at certain dog shows I’ll play the national anthem to begin the day. Sometimes I’ll play it with my husband.”

Is being well-rounded something that came naturally to her or did she discover the need to achieve it along the way? “That’s a good question. I always had other interests as a young person, even if that was just being a normal kid. I loved to play sports, but as I started to develop as a musician I realized the one thing I didn’t want to be was predictable or boring. I think it’s important for people to have escapes in order to give themselves an outlook on something more than just their music. I think anything that takes their mind away from their obsession does help their music. It’s good to be obsessed but it’s dangerous.”

Photo by Bernard Mindich.

Published on ClevelandClassical.com June 30, 2014.

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