January 6, 2016

Meet the Artist: Karen Gomyo, violin

Labeled an orchestral “It Girl” by The Globe and Mail, violinist Karen Gomyo has established herself as a much in-demand soloist both in the U.S. and internationally since starting her professional career at age 15. While she was born in Japan, Gomyo grew up in Canada from age two until she moved to New York at 11 to study at the Julliard School.

In 2008, she was a recipient of a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, given annually to five young musicians deemed to have the potential for solo careers (alums include violinist Joshua Bell and recent RPO guest artist Simone Porter).

On January 14 and 16, she returns to the RPO for the second time, joining cellist Julie Albers to perform Brahms’ double concerto. We caught up with Gomyo to learn more about her training as an artist, what she likes about the RPO, and her advice to young musicians!

Karen Gomyo
c Gabrielle Revere
How old were you when you started the violin, and what made you want to pursue it as a career?
I was five years old. I had seen a concert of violinist Midori, who was 14 at the time. I told my mother I wanted to be like that "big girl." It was perfect because my mother, who is not a musician, had been contemplating getting a piano for me, but was worried it would be too big and expensive. She was right about the violin being smaller, but little did she know about what happens to the price tag when you graduate to a full size violin!

This is your second time performing with the RPO. Your last performance was in 2011 and you performed Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 2. Do you have any memories of your last time performing with the RPO?
My 2011 performance of the Prokofiev No.2 with the RPO was my first time ever playing that piece. It's always impossible to tell how the first-time performance of a brand new piece will feel onstage, no matter how much you prepare it at home. So, I remember being particularly grateful how friendly and supportive the RPO was in making this first-time endeavor enjoyable and memorable for me.

How are you preparing to play the Brahms Concerto at the RPO, which involves cellist Julie Albers?
Julie and I will meet the evening before our first rehearsal with orchestra. We have never played together before, so it's important that we meet alone and go through the piece. From my experience, this piece has always been great fun to play. It's a big chamber music work, but the two soloists are also individuals. It's like watching two independent personalities with distinctly different traits learning to come together. I find it reflects the story behind the creation of this work.

What do you like about the Brahms Concerto?
Brahms had a fall-out with his esteemed colleague and violinist Joseph Joachim, for whom he wrote his violin concerto. Joachim had sided with Brahms' wife during the latter's divorce, thus ending their friendship. The Double Concerto was a sort of peace offering from Brahms towards Joachim. The first movement starts with a dramatic recitativo-like cadenza by the cello, later joined by the violin, and together they create one "giant instrument," as Brahms called it. It goes from the lowest register in the cello to the highest on the violin. Much of the second movement's melodies are played together, not only by the solo violin and cello, but joined also by the orchestra, as if ultimate harmony among everyone is reached. The final movement is incredibly fun to play; it has a gypsy flair, perhaps in honor of Joachim's Hungarian background.

If you could only play one piece for the rest of your life, it would be:
Probably Bach solo sonatas and partitas. There are endless challenges, possibilities, and meaning in those works.

What would be your advice to young musicians?
Always remember the real purpose of music. It's so easy to lose our heads in the everyday challenges and work that is required to play our instruments well. But the greater purpose of all this hard work is to be able to make music that will ultimately touch the human soul.

If you go:
Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique," plus Karen Gomyo and Julie Albers play Brahms
Thu. Jan. 14 at 7:30PM
Sat. Jan. 16 at 8PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $22; student tickets $10 with a valid full time student id

See Karen Gomyo rehearse the Brahms double concerto in this video from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

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