Timothy & Nikki Chooi: Tangos & Tempests

The concert world loves its prizefighters, and with the Chooi brothers we have two soloists on their way to heavyweight status. The toast of the music press, they are both winners of scores of international prizes and tag team here to perform a South-American centric program. Please note: tickets purchased on this page are for the evening concert (1-hour matinee here).

First up: a duelling European piece practically required of any concert featuring two violin virtuosos: Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. This popular work, known simply as the “Bach Double,” is an exquisite example of Bach’s late Baroque writing—thanks to Django Reinhardt’s stylings, its gypsy jazz version may be best known to general audiences.

From there, we move on to Mozart’s festive Symphony No. 34, arguably his greatest symphony of his Salzburg years, and then to Villa-Lobos’ irresistible String Quartet No.5. Written just after the Brazilian composer had returned home after lengthy period in Paris, this rarely heard quartet – rhythmic, raunchy, light-hearted, and above all eminently listenable – ranks among Villa-Lobos’ most interesting works in that genre.

For our concert’s finale, the Chooi brothers re-enter the spotlight by performing the stormy Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, a folk-classical masterpiece by the “King of Tango” Astor Piazzolla. A thunderous start to our 2019/20 season!


There isn’t enough space to list the brothers’ most impressive achievements, so we’ll settle on two: in the 2016/17 season Nikki was appointed to one of the world’s most prestigious violin posts, Concertmaster of The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, while the younger Timothy is a past winner of the Grand Prize of the l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Standard Life Competition. As brothers who’ve worked together since childhood, there’s a wonderful synergy to their collaborations. How lucky we are to have them perform together with the MCO.

The concert begins at 7.30pm on September 25th in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. (Click here for 1-hour matinee details.) Tickets, at $36 for adults, $34 for seniors and $15 for students and those under-30 (incl. GST), are available at McNally Robinson, Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave), and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.

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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
25 September 2019

Anne Manson, conductor
Nikki & Timothy Chooi, violin soloists


Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (BWV1043)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338

Heitor Villa-Lobos
String Quartet No. 5 (W263)

Astor Piazzolla
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

Evening concert sponsor / Wawanesa Insurance
Matinee Concert co-sponsors / Mrs. Angela Ross and Drs. Elizabeth Tippett-Pope & Bill Pope
Evening concertmaster sponsor / Paul Walsh
Matinee Concertmaster sponsors / Elaine & Neil Margolis
Concert media sponsor / Nostalgia Broadcasting Co-operative (CJNU 93.7)

Nikki Chooi

Canadian violinist Nikki Chooi, praised for his passionate and poetic performances, has established himself as an artist of rare versatility. Described as “vigorous, colorful” by the New York Times, he has received critical acclaim in engagements at Chicago’s Harris Theatre, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, New York’s Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, and Vancouver’s Recital Series. Nikki has embarked on nation-wide performance tours with Musicians from Marlboro in the United States, and as a soloist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Chamber Music New Zealand, and Selby & Friends in Australia.

Nikki performs with his brother, violinist Timothy Chooi, in select projects. The duo recently performed the world premiere of Sheridan Seyfried’s Double Violin Concerto at the Lake George Festival, toured Canada through Jeunesse Musicale and Prairie Debut, and were featured Canadian artists at the 2018 International G7 Meeting held in Whistler.

Nikki began his studies at the Victoria Conservatory, Mount Royal Conservatory, and at the National Arts Centre Young Artist Programme with Pinchas Zukerman. He completed his formal studies at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School under the mentorship of Joseph Silverstein, Ida Kavafian, and Donald Weilerstein. A recipient of prizes at the Queen Elizabeth and Tchaikovsky Competitions, Nikki was the first prize winner of the Montreal Symphony’s Standard Life Competition, the Klein International Strings Competition, and the Michael Hill International Violin Competition. He released his debut album of works by Prokofiev, Ravel, and Gershwin on the Atoll Label.

Timothy Chooi

Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi is regarded as one of Canada’s most promising and exciting young artists. Described as a “miracle” by Montreal’s La Presse, Mr. Chooi has won top prizes at major competitions including the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition, and the Michael Hill Violin Competition. Most recently Chooi was awarded 2nd Prize in the renowned Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels.

Alongside winning top international prizes, he has performed in global peace events such as the Asian Heritage Day Gala in collaboration with the Government of Canada. With his older brother, Nikki—also a violinist—he founded the ensemble ‘The Chooi Brothers’ which has been performing for over five years with special dedication to bringing performances to remote regions across the world, where classical music is still rare. Most recently, they completed a project of performing ten concerts in isolated communities across Western Canada.

Born in Victoria BC, Timothy Chooi graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music where he studied with Ida Kavafian. He studied previously with Pinchas Zukerman and Patinka Kopec. Timothy Chooi is currently pursuing his master’s degree at The Juilliard School in New York City.

Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043
Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach arrived in the German town of Cöthen in 1717, to take up the position of Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold. Since he wasn’t required to compose church music for Leopold’s Calvinist court, he turned his attention to creating instrumental works. Many of his finest non-vocal compositions date from his six-year term in Cöthen, including the suites for cello solo, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, the Brandenburg Concertos, the suites for orchestra, and this marvelous concerto for two violins.

The main violinists of Prince Leopold’s court orchestra, Joseph Speiss and Martin Friedrich Marcus, had been recruited from Berlin. It’s possible that Bach composed this concerto with them specifically in mind. If as some scholars believe it dates from his subsequent term in Leipzig, he may have composed it for the collegium musicum (musical fraternity), an ensemble for whose concerts he was responsible. For additional information on that group, see the notes for the Bach keyboard concertos that appear with the 13 November Douglas Boyd/Simone Dinnerstein concert. For additional information on that ensemble, turn to page 39.

The soloists in the Concerto for Two Violins perform very much as equals, sharing and passing between them the richly inventive thematic materials. The outer movements crackle with energy. In the slow middle movement Bach created, in the words of biographer Julius Spitta, whose widely praised biography of Bach appeared in 1873, “a true pearl of noble, heartfelt song.”

Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K 338
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In May 1781, Mozart was unceremoniously discharged from the service of Hieronymous Colleredo, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Mozart’s home town. Delighted to be free from this unappreciative and demeaning relationship, he relocated from what he considered the cultural backwater of Salzburg to the bustling, music-loving metropolis of Vienna. He was destined to spend the remaining 10 years of his life there.

The thirty-fourth was the final symphony he composed before his departure from Salzburg. It represents his farewell to the orchestra in which he was raised and trained, and whose mediocre quality had become a growing problem for him. Yet it does not reflect his glum frame of mind regarding Salzburg, but more likely the inspiring prospect of an upcoming trip to Munich. His opera Idomeneo (an excellent work representing a major step forward for his music in general and his operas in particular) was due to be premiered there in November 1780. The symphony, which he completed on August 29th, probably received its first performance at a Salzburg court concert during the first week of September.

It is typical of his light, entertaining symphonies of the period. Not until the final three symphonies of 1788 (Nos. 39, 40, and 41) would he seek to create anything more substantial in this form. His intention appears to have been to give it four movements. All that remains of the second, a minuet, are the first 14 bars, written on the back of the manuscript of the first movement’s final page. For unknown reasons, he either did not finish it, or he or another, unknown person tore the remainder of it out. Three-movement symphonies were not unusual during this era. Mozart’s No. 31, crafted for Parisian tastes, dates from 1779, and he would create another, the glorious ‘Prague’ Symphony (No. 38), in 1786.

He launched No. 34 with a bold and festive theme, sturdily underpinned by trumpets and timpani. He contrasted it with a second subject that is gracious but slightly wayward in character. The second movement is scored for strings and bassoon only. It is a gentle reverie, an interlude of rest and reflection between the festivities that flank it. Mozart brought back the full orchestra for the finale, which has the rollicking, folk-like character of a gigue. The oboes play an especially important role in the proceedings.

String Quartet No. 5 (Popular Quartet No. 1), W 263
Heitor Villa-Lobos

The music of Villa-Lobos is close to the very heart and soul of Brazil. Throughout his long, astonishingly active career, nurturing all things Brazilian remained his primary goal. He spent his early years traveling throughout his country’s vast hinterland, playing the cello, studying native music on location, and composing original works in enormous quantities. As a mature artist, he composed hundreds more pieces in every imaginable form (more than 2000 works in total); conducted orchestras, bands and choirs; became deeply involved in music education; and generally served as Brazil’s unofficial musical ambassador to the world.

He composed string quartets throughout his career, 17 of them from 1915 to 1957. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians says that “they show the full extent of his mastery and his imagination.” He stated that he had learned how to write this type of piece by studying the quartets of the first great figure in the medium’s history, Joseph Haydn—although there is little resemblance between their examples of the genre.

He created String Quartet No. 5 in São Paolo in 1931, having recently returned to his homeland after spending a considerable period abroad, primarily in Paris. During his time in the French capital, he had made contact with (and had closely studied the music of) such major composers as Ravel, Prokofiev, Falla and Stravinsky. He had focused much of his creative energy on orchestral music.

In 1931, 14 years had passed since his most recent quartet. No. 5’s subtitle ‘Popular Quartet’ indicates that among its ingredients were popular Brazilian themes, including children’s songs. In 1935, he followed it with Quartet No. 6, based on the same type of melody and published with the subtitle ‘Brazilian Quartet.’

Quartet No. 5—the most immediately appealing of the 17—has four compact movements that share a quasi-improvisational character. The first is the longest and the most fluid in tempo. The seven continuous subsections range from crisp and dance-like to slow and dreamy. The second movement alternates the impact of a bristling scherzo with passages of deep meditation. The third movement sets a moderate pace but regularly strays into more vigorous territory. The finale sprints ahead, spreading delight as it goes. This evening’s performance will use the full string sections of the MCO.

The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Astor Piazzolla (arr. Desyatnikov)

Piazzolla became a Latin American musical legend by taking the traditional tango—the sultry dance that sprang up in the back alleys and brothels of Buenos Aires in the final quarter of the nineteenth century—and mixing it with classical music and jazz to create the more sophisticated and experimental ‘nuevo tango’ (new tango).

His life-long restlessness began when his family emigrated to New York when he was three. After a period spent playing the bandoneón (a small, square accordion) in American tango bands, he returned to Argentina in 1937. He studied with renowned composer Alberto Ginastera for six years.

In 1954, an orchestral work he composed for the Buenos Aires Philharmonic won him a scholarship for a year’s study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, friend of Stravinsky and tutor to an entire generation of composers, including numerous Americans. “Up to then, I had composed symphonies, chamber music, string quartets,” Piazzolla recalled. “But when Nadia Boulanger analyzed my music, she said she could nowhere find any Piazzolla. She could find Ravel and Stravinsky, also Béla Bartók and Hindemith—but never Piazzolla … Nadia made me play a tango to her and she said, ‘You idiot! That is the real Piazzolla!’ So I threw away all the other music and, in 1954, started working on my new tango.”

His compositions in this style, designed more for serious listening than for dancing, met with heated resistance from traditionalists after he resettled in Argentina. “Musicians hated me,” he recalled. “I was taking the old tango away from them. They even put a gun to my head once.” Nuevo tango first found acceptance in France and the United States. Fed up with his countrymen’s scorn, Piazzolla relocated to Paris for good in 1974.

During the final two decades of his life, he earned worldwide fame, touring with his band and composing busily for stage, screen, and concert rooms. His fellow Argentines finally came to accept his new style, to the point where they hailed him as the saviour of tango, whose popularity had declined during the ‘50s and ‘60s.

In the late 1980s, classical performers such as violinist Gidon Kremer and the Kronos Quartet began taking his music into their repertoire. Among his compositions of this period are a Bandoneón Concerto that shows the influence of Bach, a Cello Sonata written for Mstislav Rostropovich, and Five Tango Sensations, a moody piece for bandoneón and strings commissioned by Kronos. Shortly before his death, he was commissioned by the Paris Opéra to compose a work on the life of Carlos Gardel, the great 1930s tango singer with whom he had worked in Gardel’s prime. Piazzolla wrote some 750 pieces in all.

He composed Verano Porteño (Buenos Aires Summer) in 1965. Originally part of his incidental score for Melenito de oro, a play by Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz, he later adapted it for his tango quintet. Five years passed before he decided to create three more pieces, each one inspired by another of the four seasons. He considered them separate works, and only occasionally performed them together.

After his death, Gidon Kremer commissioned Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov to bring the four pieces together and to transcribe them for solo violin and string orchestra. Kremer wanted a piece that he could perform in concert on the same programme as Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Desyatnikov strengthened the links between the two scores by weaving witty references to Vivaldi into Piazzolla’s music. The Piazzolla/Desyatnikov Seasons offer a heady, colourful and highly entertaining mixture of ingredients: tango, jazz, romanticism and impressionism, all liberally spiced with saucy humour and playful contemporary techniques.