Blog by Grace

About Grace Cho:

Grace is Executive Director and Pianist of the New Orchestra of Washington. She enjoys meeting new and interesting people at concerts and sharing meals and conversations with her friends and family. This is her new blog, dedicated to the vibrant cultural scene in the Washington DC area.


About this blog:

There was a time a night-out meant drinking heavily and going to a club or karaoke, exploring every corner of my hometown: Seoul, Korea. If I didn’t remember anything significant the next morning, I’d consider that to be a good night-out, so long as I didn’t end up with anything too embarrassing or regrettable.

But things changed at some point.

I want to go out. I want to try the coolest and hottest things. I want to explore different corners of Washington, DC, which I am so lucky to call home. But now, I want these excursions to be inspiring and memorable. Thought provoking and news-worthy. Intellectually stimulating, but not physically exhausting. I want to remember the impact of these nights-out for a long time.

So I have decided to chronicle these urban adventures with my partner-in-crime, Tad.

A little bit about Tad: we go way back. It’s not just about how many years we’ve known each other but the kind of life journeys we took in the time we’ve been friends and how our paths have crossed and our lives have intersected. And not only is he fashionable and fun,  but he is super-smart and visionary. I mean, how can I not love someone with vision and guts, who can dress like a GQ model with the sleekest pair of shoes!

Special note: The Evermay Concert Series‘s fall season is continuing until December, and will return again next spring. I always get excited to see the line-up when they release the new season, and am looking forward to the next concert!


Schubert over Take-out Thai

February of 2014, 29-year-old American violinist, Noah Bendix-Balgley became the concertmaster of Berliner Philharmoniker and shook the classical world. I’ve only watched him perform through Digital Concert Hall, an app by Berlin Phil (which I believe every music lover should subscribe to) so when I learned that he was in town to give a concert, I could not pass up the opportunity. But what I experienced exceeded my expectations.

The concert was produced by the Ryuji Ueno Foundation , and presented at Evermay in Georgetown, one of the most gorgeous spaces in Washington DC. Dr. Ueno is an internationally recognized scientist who devoted his life to biomedical research and developed notable treatments including Rescula® (unoprostone), an anti-glaucoma medicine and AMITIZA® (lubiprostone), a medicine for various gastrointestinal conditions. After retiring from the biomedical field, Dr. Ueno founded the Ryuji Ueno Foundation and dedicated himself to promoting young artists with the potential to become major forces in the music industry.

Dr. Ueno knows what it takes to break through. He once told me about his years as a researcher, at one point in debt of millions of dollars, but still no break-through medicine. But he had tenacity and perseverance and most importantly the faith and vision for what he wanted and could accomplish.  And now, he wants to help musicians achieve the same goal.  Scientists and artists, we are not so different after all.

Back to Noah’s concert at Evermay: the entire evening was dedicated to two Schubert Trios in Bb and Eb respectively. The performers: Noah on violin, Peter Wiley on cello, and Robert Levin on piano. Of course, I am familiar with all three names. Pretty much the legends and giants of classical world: Peter is the cellist of Guarneri Quartet and Robert is a pianist, conductor, and musicologist, a walking authority on Mozart and Schubert. But I must admit, I didn’t think it would work. They don’t really look like they’d click. Their styles and looks vastly differ from each other and there is a span of 40 years among their ages. Have you tried to talk to your parents into wearing a seatbelt in the back seat of your car? How do they even rehearse together? They don’t live anywhere near one another (so when and where do they rehearse?) and I never heard them as a group.

But what happened during the performance was something extraordinary and unimaginable.

I have to stop here and talk a little bit about the art of making chamber music.  It’s about the balance. Not as in who is louder and who is covering whom. But the balance of opposites. How much of the “charismatic soloist” you bring out and how much of the “supporting role” you play. In other words, the constant battle between the heart and the brain. The intuition and the intellect. Being the wise old man, the authority, the golden child, the explorer. If you are too charismatic a soloist, you leave your teammates behind, and if you are only quietly supporting others, the music isn’t as exciting. You have to possess both of these characters and switch back and forth with ease. Bipolarity, but in a good way. Needless to say, it’s hard to find someone who can do chamber music well.

These three artists – Noah, Peter, and Robert – they were the golden mix of these dualities. They were all soloists but never fighting to get the spotlight, happily coexisting and shining together. Whomever took a melody, it would soar. No one needed to become “softer” for the melody to come out. Whoever was accompanying, it would still be made interesting and draw attention. My brain was electrified, trying to grasp every second of every line.

I should probably stop here and return to the “setting” for a bit because the concert experience was greatly heightened by the circumstances. First of all, my seat was about four feet from the endpin anchor of the cello.  I almost try not to look directly at the performers because I was so sure that we’d make an eye contact and I’d be more uncomfortable about it than the performers. The Ryuji Ueno Foundation Everymay concerts always start with drinks and appetizers. I probably had a couple of glasses of white wine and a few bites of gourmet appetizers before the concert started. Yeah, I was in good mood, ready to take it all in.

(food by the Occasions)

After the concert, Tad and I were invited to “stick around” a bit. It turned out they were ordering late dinner for the artists and we ended up gathering around the kitchen table eating take-out Thai. I learned that Peter had become a vegan about a year ago and loves the health effects of it. Robert entertained us with the story of how the legendary Bach conductor, Helmuth Rilling, commissioned him to complete Mozart’s Requiem – there were three no’s before Robert finally gave in. I met Noah’s wife, who is a violinist in the New York Philharmonic (and I thought Alejandro and I had it bad between New York and Washington DC). The food was delicious and one thing I regret from the evening was the fact that I didn’t get a second plate.