Jackiw Makes Recording Debut With Brahms

Stefan Jackiw
The Korean Times

By Lee Hyo-won

To perform Brahms' violin sonatas, the ability to paint polychromatic forms is vital, as well as having the musical maturity and depth that can convincingly depict the old man's nostalgic musings on life. Case in point, violin virtuoso Sarah Chang only recently showcased Brahms during what has been a 20-year career.

So when the 24-year-old Stefan Jackiw chose the sonatas for his recording debut (under the Sony Classical label with veteran producer Steven Epstein), one had to wonder how he would tackle the pieces.

``The third sonata I just played is a dark, fiery work; the first is introspective, nostalgic; the second is open-hearted and very loving. It's an interesting and contrasting set,'' Jackiw told reporters in Seoul, Tuesday, about his reasons for choosing Brahms.

He had already demonstrated his talent through solos with local orchestras and with the explosively popular chamber ensemble Ditto. But how did he attempt to depict an old man's spiritual struggle to grow ``anxious flowers'' — harnessing one's gifts to artistic ends, just as flowers bloom in full glory just before they wilt?

``For me certainly some parts are more difficult than others. The first sonata is especially more elusive than the others; it's not as dramatic or open as the others. It is about an old man looking back at his youth, and it's tricky to capture that,'' Jackiw said after playing the third sonata.

In his playing, both live and recorded, Jackiw makes the violin sing. Poeticism takes flight — with both youthful exuberance and a certain timelessness — soaring from unapologetically beautiful, balletic lyricism to lighthearted caprice and red-blooded vigor that ignites dazzling furies.

``Stefan has a young violinist's fire and energy but also maturity, rare depth and understanding,'' said pianist Max Levinson, who played gracefully to the ebb and flow of the strings. The two collaborated on the album and will be taking the stage together in recitals across Korea and the United States.

``Jackiw possesses a slender, silvery tone well suited to Brahms's intimate lyricism, and his pianist, Max Levinson, proved an equally idiomatic partner,'' said the Miami Sun Herald about a recent concert featuring the sonatas.

In his album jacket Jackiw features ``Rain Song'' by Brahms, about an old man wistfully looking back at his days of young. It is worth noting that Brahms had composed the song earlier and was inspired several years later to use it for the first violin sonata.

Similarly, the recording testifies to a young Jackiw's rumination of old age. It will be interesting to hear new interpretations from the artist in the future.

``I think we were happy with the result (of the recording). But five years from now we might think otherwise; we keep learning and growing, I hope,'' said Levinson.

``As performers we draw on our life experiences and put that into our interpretations and performances. Studying things outside of music, from psychology to reading lots of books and traveling, shaped a lot of what I have to say through music,'' said Jackiw. ``After recording a piece it's sort of in your blood, and playing it afterward is more meaningful because you've lived with it in such an intense way.''

Born to a Korean mother and an American father in the U.S., Jackiw is known here as the grandson of the famous late writer Pi Cheon-deuk. He began playing the violin at age four and pursued joint degrees at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory. In 2002, he received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant.