- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

Several evenings a year, friends, neighbors and invited guests gather at a large, gracious home in tony North Reston to mingle, sip wine and nibble on finger foods. Seems like the usual suburban fare at first glance. But the most important portion of these gatherings is devoted to a musical recital presented by either an established or an up-and-coming young musician. The rotating cast is international in flavor and includes artists from America as well as England, Spain, Russia, Georgia, France, Austria and Israel.

Known as the Lake Newport Recitals, this informal series was the brainchild of Reston residents Irene and Leonid Kelner. Some 13 years ago, they became concerned about the apparent demise of the musical and literary salons that once were the lifeblood for performing artists. Their solution? Scheduling intimate, salon-style, professional-caliber recitals and helping support them with optional audience donations. Attendance runs between 50 and 70 per event.

Last Saturday, the featured guest artist was the astonishing young Korean violin prodigy Elizabeth Woo. A student at the Manhattan School of Music, she has studied under noted violinist Albert Markov and was recognized as the Best Musician of 2002 by the Arts Critic Association of Korea.

Accompanied by pianist Vivian Zhang, the 15-year old presented a daring and ambitious program of fiery fiddle showpieces, many of which she will feature in her upcoming June debut recital at Carnegie Hall.

Her Reston performance was at times reminiscent of twentysomething violin phenom Hillary Hahn at a similar age. Her playing is polished, and her technique is formidable, although her youthful enthusiasm can occasionally drive her to a touch of recklessness on the margins. As her considerable skill set deepens and matures, however, she will increasingly be a young artist to watch.

Miss Woo’s program commenced with a moving interpretation of Gluck’s melancholy “Melodie” as arranged by famed violinist Fritz Kreisler. The speed and decibel level soon increased with a bravura rendition of Giovanni Battista Vitali’s “Chaconne.” Beginning with a stately theme, the piece builds toward a finale that encompasses successively more difficult episodes of rapid passage work.

Miss Woo handled the challenges with aplomb, but at times she briefly lost touch with her accompanist, perhaps as a result of infrequent eye contact. A bit more attention to communication would prove quite helpful in winning over a demanding Carnegie Hall audience later this year.

Miss Woo rounded out her recital’s first half with exquisite renditions of Wagner’s rarely heard “Albumblatt” and Alexander Glazounov’s lovely “Adagio” as well as Henryk Wieniawski’s thrilling “Scherzo Tarantella” and the playfully skipping melodies of Henri Vieuxtemps’ “Rondino.”

After a brief intermission, Miss Woo returned to perform several extraordinarily robust works composed by 19th-century violinist and musical legend Niccolo Paganini, including his Sonata No. 4 and well-known “Cantabile.” Her performance of the sonata was, perhaps, her best effort of the evening, brimming with poise and a maturity of expression always surprising in a musician so young.

In terms of sheer fireworks, Miss Woo saved the best for last, playing six of Paganini’s 24 “Caprices” for unaccompanied violin, with two of her own choosing and the remainder randomly picked by members of the audience. (She will perform all 24 at Carnegie Hall.)

Although none of these works is easy by any stretch of the imagination, Miss Woo was most effective in the first and fourth Caprices, in which the violin at times can sound like a small string orchestra and the greatest ordeal for the violinist is in extracting a discernible melodic line from the runs and trills that occur at breakneck speed.

Miss Woo navigated these dangerous shoals with considerable success. She concluded, appropriately, with the most popular Caprice, No. 24, borrowed by Rachmaninoff for his famous Paganini variations for piano and orchestra.

Called back by the appreciative audience, Miss Woo concluded her recital with two encores, Grigoras Dinicu’s rhythmic “Hora Staccato” and Paganini’s brief 21st Caprice.

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