MARK GRESHAM | 15 JUN 2021
One of the great advantages of concert video, whether or not an audience is present, is the ability to edit and remix the recordings to produce new programs, with or without new elements added.
Despite several decades of music videos being common in the pop music industry for promotion of artists and albums, video of classical music concerts were still being treated as a luxury up until the middle of March, 2020 when the pandemic made them as essential as wearing masks in public.
Different presenters and ensembles have approached making videos in different ways, from raw live streaming of a concert to fully produced, pre-recorded and edited episodes of a series to be premiered on a specified programming date.
Kennesaw State university is one of those entities which streams live faculty concerts “as is” as they happen, but doesn’t make them available on demand later. They do, however, archive the videos for the performers.
This brings us to the 2021 Zenith Chamber Music Festival, based at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Although a number of summer festivals have opened back up to presenting live concerts, Zenith, which had canceled its 2020 Festival completely, decided to go with a virtual format this year, with guest performers providing video of their performances for use in Zenith’s online productions.
Atlanta violinist Helen Hwaya Kim has participated in Zenith as a guest artist since it was founded in 2015. For this year’s virtual Zenith, she assembled videos from performances with pianist Robert Henry and cellist Charae Krueger, plus a new solo video.
Kin’s featured Zenith program, streamed on June 9, demonstrated the power and flexibility of mixing and matching existing videos into a tight, attractive and convincing program. It kicked off with Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22 by Clara Schumann and then the unaccompanied Passacaglia in G minor by Heinrich Biber, both excerpted from a March 2020 performance with Henry, but in reverse order from the KSU concert.
These were followed by Kim’s January 2021 performance with Krueger of the first movement from Zoltán Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 (“Allegro serioso, non troppo”). They had performed the entire Op. 7 in that source concert. Then three more from March 2020 with Henry: Deux Morceaux for Violin and Piano by Lili Boulanger, Fratres by Arvo Pärt, and closing with Jascha Heifetz’ famous arrangement of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
Although the original KSU concerts were streamed “as is,” the Zenith Festival’s presentation gave opportunity to provide a different framework for these video performances while leaving the videos of each performance untouched – something unavailable with live, real-time streaming. The ability to excerpt and re-order performances from multiple concerts, as well as add both a Zenith program introduction and a live Zoom conversation, allowed for a fresh perspective for those who had already seen the original KSU performance streams, and an attractive presentation package for those who had not, as well as the performers themselves.
But there’s more: Kim recorded a new unaccompanied performance of Tango Etude No. 3 by Astor Piazzolla. Originally written for solo flute, Kim transcribed the short piece for solo violin. The video found its way onto Zenith’s collective finale, streamed on June 12.
As violinist, Kim’s playing exhibits a great tensile strength, start to finish. There is nothing weak or timid about it. Her quieter passages are loaded with as much inner energy as forceful, extroverted ones, holding well the attention of the listener. Nor is detail lost in the process. She captures essential elements of style across a broad spectrum of repertoire in a compelling way.
Viewing her video performances as repackaged for Zenith was a delight. Although obliged to be virtual this year, the Festival’s streamed programs proved a good platform for her playing, perhaps giving more people a better chance to get to know this admirable Atlanta-based violinist and her colleagues. ■