Postcard from Connecticut

Postcard from Connecticut

Direct from the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Isaac Shieh shares the first part of his travel blog. 

Isaac Shieh
Melbourne, Australia

Postcard from Connecticut

Direct from the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Isaac Shieh shares the first part of his travel blog. 

Standing alone in Terminal 8 of JFK International Airport at 2am in the morning, separated from the rest of the Maverick Brass Quintet and with no way of communicating with them, two thoughts came to my mind:

1) I have made it to the great nation of USA
2) It’s going to take some serious effort if I want to be reunited with the rest of the group

In many ways, our trip to America is similar to the journey Frodo in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: namely, that it took a very long time to get to the destination. From the moment the pilots announced an emergency landing at Sydney due to an oil leak, we knew we had on our hands a story for the ages. By the time we got to our hostel at 4 in the morning, I was, more than anything, relieved to not be sitting on a plane. We attacked the jet lag head on by cramming in as many tourist activities as possible during our two days in the Big Apple, which may have resulted in some public napping on the subway and in the baseball stadium...

Being very sleep deprived and slightly out of practice were probably not factors that would make a successful start to a six-week residency at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, but at least we could say we made the most out of our time in New York! 

Flashback to 10 years ago, I remember the first time I listened to a brass quintet play was when I first got a CD of Empire Brass playing a selection of Renaissance and Baroque music. Back then, I had no idea what chamber music was or even what a brass quintet was! But what I do remember vividly is how I sat next to the CD player and thought: “this is really cool!” This memory, while it has had very little influence on my musical upbringing, struck me as being special when we found out that the first coach we were to work with at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival happened to be one of the players from Empire Brass; my introduction to brass quintet music.

It's not often you get to meet one of your childhood idols. It's rarer still to have the opportunity to spend time and learn from them in such an intensive yet exhilarating environment of music making. So far, the three weeks we have spent with the faculty members and fellows of Norfolk Chamber Music Festival have been incredible and eye-opening. In particular, our coaching sessions with Scott Hartman and William Purvis have been invaluable. Not only did we improve individually and as an ensemble, we were able to receive a wealth of musical ideas as well as professional experiences from world class musicians. By having the opportunities to interact with like-minded people, I have been intoxicated by the sheer passion for chamber music making that surrounds Norfolk. For me, it is rare to have the chance to witness intimate chamber music making at the highest calibre in such a close proximity, and in many ways, it has simply been a humbling and inspiring experience that motivates me to become a better musician every day.

‘Great moments are born from great opportunities’ - Herb Brooks

From our first performance of Bernstein’s West Side Story to our recent performance of Hillborg’s Brass Quintet, I knew I am part of a very special festival that will have a lifelong impact on me as a musician, and I feel very privileged and humbled to be able to spend the six weeks with four of my closest mates. The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, with its rich history of world class music making, is unique in many ways. To play on the very same stage that Antoine Dvorak, Sergei Rachmaninov and Percy Grainger have performed on many years ago is an incredibly surreal feeling. Not only that, to have the chance to live and work alongside members of some of the best string quartets as well as chamber musicians around the world is something that is beyond my wildest dreams. Undoubtedly, the festival has given me the ability to improve as a musician no classroom or practice room can provide. In the space of three weeks, I have improved immensely as a musician; gaining a far better understanding of the intricacy of chamber music making. But most importantly, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival has united like-minded musicians under one purpose: the strive for the pinnacle of chamber music performance; to allude to the powerful memories or sensitive emotions shared by the musicians and the audience.

Follow the Maverick Brass Quintet on Instagram here. Photo by Bec Fagan.