Cho-liang Lin brings intensity and vibrancy to Performing Arts Series

By Nina Ng

Courtesy Photo
Cho-Liang Lin.

When Cho-liang Lin picks up his violin, he brings it to life. Its wooden body transforms into a bright atrium, procuring delicate notes as his bow all but flies across the strings with vigor. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he plays an 18th-century Stradivarius, but chiefly, having the opportunity to watch and listen to Lin’s playing is a joy in itself.

The Middlebury Performing Arts series hosted a virtual concert last Friday that featured Lin and included a program of three pieces. Each piece within the program was selected from recordings of his past performances, as pandemic limitations have indefinitely postponed his concert route.

Watching a virtual classical performance is certainly strange. I feel a sense of sympathy for the performers — they miss out on the experience of being onstage, and being virtual forms an automatic disconnect between them and the audience. However, from the moment Lin begins to play, you forget all about this flaw. 

The show kicks off with Lin’s rendition of Lukas Foss’ “Composer’s Holiday,” a bright and cheery opening enhanced by his charismatic stage presence. Foss’ iconic third movement is a suitable opening for Lin, who has fun with the music, playing each spiccato with great enthusiasm. He flies through this first piece, with accompanist Jon Kimura Parker matching his energy on the piano.

The duo wonderfully work together in Antonín Dvořák’s “Sonatina for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 100.” With Dvořák’s signature melodramatic tone, the mood definitively shifts from “Composer’s Holiday” into a slower, reflective one expected of “II. Larghetto.” On stage, Lin is one with his instrument, producing only the smoothest, sweetest notes. Cameras capture both pianist and violinist separately and together, highlighting the melodic intricacies of each performer’s instrument. The editing of the concert helps to put viewers in the mindset of being there, fusing close-ups of each instrument with wide shots of the performers onstage.

Ending with Tchaikovsky’s notorious sextet, “Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70,” the show closes on a dramatic note. The last piece Lin performed in person during May of 2020, “Souvenir de Florence” evokes a sort of bittersweet joy in Lin. As a daunting piece that spans over half an hour of melodic dips and swells, Tchaikovvsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” is exhaustive. 

It’s enjoyable to see how Lin and his fellow musicians work in harmony, especially during chaotic and vibrant measures filled with a dramatically high tempo. The sextet closes in triumph, following the previous two movements characterized by mellower tones throughout. To prove that I’m not merely laying on the praise, I’ll note that somewhere within the second movement, several of his bow strings snapped from the intensity of his playing.

In watching Cho-liang Lin’s stunning performances, I find his love for the music and the instrument entirely humbling, reigniting my respect for chamber music and the violin alike. Frankly, you don’t need to be a fan of classical music — or even its instruments — to appreciate a performer as delightful as Lin.