Violinist Kristen Lee will present a concert in the new Clark Arts Center at the Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island on Sunday, September 2 at 7:30 p.m. as a part of the Perlman Music Program’s Alumni Concert Series. As the title of the series suggests, Lee is an alumnus of the prestigious Shelter Island summer programs overseen by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. This Alumni Concert will give longtime fans of the Perlman Music Program a chance to hear a concert performance from a mature artist who was nurtured right here. I recently spoke with Lee about her upcoming concert and about the Perlman Music Program.
Most East End music lovers are aware of the Perlman Music Program – we’ve gotten used to going to Shelter Island to watch performances and Itzhak Perlman’s master classes. And, of course, we marvel at the precocious young musicians who have practiced so hard. These kids are going to be stars one day, we say to ourselves, and all of this hard work will be rewarded. But, even as we say it, we recognize the tremendous challenges that await these young people in a cultural environment that has very little room for classical music. And we may well wonder what, beyond the tremendous musical training, does the Perlman Music Program do to prepare young people for this difficult road.
According to Lee, the most important lessons she learned at the Perlman Music Program were emotional ones. As a young violin prodigy, a student of the legendary Dorothy DeLay in the world-class Juilliard Pre-College program, she was invited by Perlman himself to attend the Perlman Music Program. She ended up coming every summer from 2000 to 2008.
“You could say I grew up there,” Lee reflects on her experience. There was already considerable pressure being placed on the young girl’s violin playing. Her family was originally from Seoul, Korea: in order for Lee to attend the Juilliard Pre-College, her mother gave up a career as a singer and moved with all of her children to New Jersey, while Lee’s father stayed behind in Korea to support the family. The young violinist was spectacularly gifted – it was as a winner of the Juilliard Pre-College concerto competition that she first came to Itzhak Perlman’s attention – but there was undeniable emotional stress surrounding her fledgling music career.
Perlman was able to transform that burden, teaching through example that music is not about anxiety and pressure. “He allowed me to see that music isn’t about deciding which player is the best or trying to be perfect,” observes Lee. “For Itzhak, music is a way of life, more than just a job or a discipline.” Far more important than being perfect, then, is “being genuine” and communicating with the listeners.
One way the Perlman Music Program teaches this important emotional lesson is by purposely dialing back the competition among program participants. Young people who are admitted to the program have an open invitation to return in following years: this way they never feel like they need to “prove” themselves while at the Program. Decisions about who gets solos and other prominent parts are determined by chance. Most importantly, the Program takes great pains to avoid favoring particular students or trying to create “stars,” something gifted young musicians will get plenty of elsewhere. While at Perlman, they play music for the joy and the love of it, and it shows.
It continues to show in Lee’s playing. She now has a busy concert schedule that includes solo events as well as appearances with major orchestras. For the September 2 concert on Shelter Island, she has selected a repertoire of music by French composers, plus a Mozart sonata that the composer wrote in Paris. Included in the program is Lee’s own arrangement of Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes.
“This is the first classical arrangement I’ve done,” explains Lee, distinguishing it from some “pop” arranging she’s done on the side. “The pieces are originally just for piano, but I love them so much that I wanted to present them with violin and piano. They work very well that way.” From her love of music to our ears: the success of the Perlman Music Program in action.
Advance tickets are available for $20 at
www.perlmanmusicprogram.org. Tickets at door $25.