[Casa Magazine] A Rising Star
By Daniel Kepl, Casa Magazine
Link to article
I caught up with Canadaian violinist Timothy Chooi in the stairwell of his hotel in Austin last week via Skype. He had just finished performing in the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition, the world's leading audition for violinists under 22. Chooi will be playing Max Bruch's Violin Concerto #1 in G Minor with the Santa Barbara Symphony on Saturday, March 15th at 8pm and Sunday, March 16 at 3pm at the Granada Theatre.
The first thing I wnated to know was whether he'd ever played the Bruch concerto, which is one of the most popular in the violin repertory. "I learned it when I was maybe ten years old, and played it quite a few times with my local orchestra (Victoria Symphony in BC). I never touched it again until the beginning of last year. I re-learned it, and it was a really great experience. Looking at it from a different perspective gave me one of my greatest joys."
Timothy is an undergrad at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his older brother Nikki also studied. Following an older brother's path is very least, confusing. "Yes, I always get mixed up with my brother," Timothy confided, with a laugh. "We both still study with the same teacher, Ida Kavafian, who teaches at Curtis and Julliard, so she constantly gets us mixed up. And the faculty always calls me Nikki, or 'I remember your brother playing this, I remember your brother that,' but it's fine."
Timothy and Nikki, who is five years older, play together and compete with one another often. The two Chooi's recently won an audition for the Canada Council Instrument Bank, a competition held every three years. The winner gets to select an instrument from Canada Council's collection of rare and valuable instruments to play until the next competition. "My brother and I were very fortunate to be one of the winners. I chose the 1729 Guarneri del Gesu, and my brother chose the 1700 Stradivarius violin." I ask if they ever fight over the two historical instruments. "No, because my brother did the same audition three years before me, and chose del Gesu. So this time he was very kind saying, "it's your turn to try it, because I've had it for three years, and I'm going to try the Strad now."
How Timothy Chooi can engage in an already major solo career--he is appearing in the U.S., Canada, Malaysia, and South America during the next three months alone--and continue his studies at Curtis begs the question: "Curtis is a very special school," Timothy made clear. "They're very performance related, and they believe that if the students have something that's of greater importance than what's happening at school, they allow students to do those things to help build their careers. A lot of my performances do fall during the school year. It's quite a lot, but it's something that I really enjoy doing, and the school thinks that it's really important for me to fulfill those engagements. When I get back to school I just have to catch up; I have a theory exam coming up next week."
Both brothers are the only musicians in the family, so like all parents theirs worried about financial security and happiness. "My dad's a computer analyst and my mom holds a degree in mathematics," Timothy explained, "So they had no idea, no control over how to guide us in our career paths--what to do next. They have basically learned from experience, and fortunately so far, the experiences have been very good. And they're very supportive. I think the most important thing was that our parents gave us the blessing to become musicians, and to do what we love."