Meet the 2019 Avery Fisher Career Grant Recipients
In 1974 Avery Fisher, a lifelong lover and benefactor of classical music, established Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Artist Program, which includes The Avery Fisher Prize and Avery Fisher Career Grants. The 2019 Career Grant recipients, pictured above from left to right at the announcement ceremony on March 14, are Henry Kramer (piano); Christina and Michelle Naughton (piano); Angelo Xiang Yu (violin); and the JACK Quartet (ensemble). A radio broadcast of the performances from the ceremony will be aired on Thursday, April 25, at 9:00 pm on WQXR 105.9 FM and www.wqxr.org. In advance of the broadcast, Henry, Christina and Michelle, and Angelo answered a few questions for us, and the JACK Quartet provided a playlist of their current vibes (link requires login).
Q. Top three influences (musical or otherwise)?
Henry Kramer: My parents, Pat and Asher; Robert McDonald, Julian Martin, Boris Berman (my teachers); and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.
Christina & Michelle Naughton: Family! Also, New York City (particularly the cultural scene), and anything by Bach.
Angelo Xiang Yu: The violinist Nathan Milstein, the Hagen Quartet, and the writer Milan Kundera.
Q. Artist/album you have on repeat?
Henry: Currently, Shostakovich Symphonies No. 4 and 11 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons.
Christina & Michelle: Evelyne Crochet's recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.
Angelo: Grigory Sokolov: Schubert Piano Sonata D.960 and Jascha Heifetz: Korngold Violin Concerto in D major.
Q. Last live performance you saw?
Henry: Nikolai Lugansky with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3.
Christina & Michelle: Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Village Vanguard (Christina). Several live music sets at the Flatiron Room (Michelle).
Angelo: Pianist Ingrid Fliter performing Mendelssohn Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Q. Favorite city to play (for touring musicians/artists)?
Henry: San Francisco.
Christina & Michelle: Whichever one we're performing in at the time.
Angelo: There are so many "favorites." I would say my top three are Wellington (New Zealand), Boston, and Oslo.
Q. Hidden talent?
Henry: I can walk on my hands and impersonate people really well.
Christina & Michelle: Sleeping on planes and trains. 😊
Angelo: Cooking! I did not know that before age 25 as I had never even tried, and then magic happened! If you name any dish at a famous Chinese restaurant, I will be able to cook it for you. 😊
Q. Favorite book or movie?
Henry: Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon (book); Mrs. Doubtfire (movie).
Christina & Michelle: Into Great Silence (movie).
Angelo: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (book); The Invisible Guest (movie).
Q. Top three pieces of advice for aspiring artists?
Henry: Be kind; work hard and true; and don't take yourself too seriously.
Christina & Michelle: 1. When on tour, sleep whenever you can. 2. When on tour, eat whenever you can. 3. (See 1 and 2).
Angelo: 1. Listen to your own voice and believe in yourself. Don't be distracted by what's going on outside. Everybody has their own path, and we should not compare ourselves to others, as everyone is different. 2. Practice is 20% physical and 80% mental. Sadly, nowadays, many musicians are doing the opposite. I always suggest my students study the score before putting their hands on the instrument, and always think ten times before practicing one time, instead of mindlessly practicing for one hour. 3. Have the right mentality and constantly ask yourself, "Why?" For example, before you go to a competition, you can have the mentality of "I just want to win the first prize!" or, "I want to take this chance to improve myself, and share my distinctive voice with more audience!"
Q. First live performance you remember seeing?
Henry: Martha Argerich with Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Ravel's Concerto in G major, and Scheherazade.
Christina & Michelle: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra playing Barber's Adagio for Strings.
Angelo: When I was six, I went to a concert performed by a group of Mongolian musicians with their traditional instruments, including the famous "horsehead violin."
Q. Artist you'd most like to meet (past or present)?
Henry: Chopin, Jenny Holzer.
Christina & Michelle: Annie Fischer.
Angelo: Leonardo da Vinci; Martha Argerich.
Q. First paying gig?
Henry: I really can't remember! But maybe when I played with Portland String Quartet after winning their competition for young pianists when I was 14.
Christina & Michelle: A wedding when we were in middle school. We arrived and asked "Where's the piano?" The organizer looked at us and said, "Didn't you bring your own?"
Angelo: When I was in high school, I played the "accompanist violin" at a pop-song show—outdoors, two hours, temperature 20 degrees (F). The pay was approximately equal to two meals. 😊
Q. Country you'd most like to visit?
Christina & Michelle: Any place warm!
Q. Artist you'd most like to collaborate with?
Henry: Violinist Isabelle Faust.
Christina & Michelle: A composer who wants to write a great two-piano concerto.
Angelo: Pianist Alexander Melnikov.
Q. What you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Henry: Don't doubt yourself.
Christina & Michelle: Heavy suitcases on European tours make tight train connections difficult!
Angelo: Many things: to dress properly, to expand repertoire early instead of repeating for competitions, to pace myself, to practice slowly... But all these regrets made my life unique, and without them, I probably wouldn't have cherished every single second of what I have right now.
Playlist: JACK Quartet Current Vibes
Q. Practice tips?
Henry: Make a plan away from your instrument, look at the score away from the instrument, don't make a sound that isn't considered/meaningful.
Christina & Michelle: You really should practice! 😊😊
Angelo: I never practice for more than two hours. The key is to stay focused and use your brain. Mental practice is crucial, as you can easily spend five hours practicing how to play something wrong, which is even worse than not practicing.
Q. Latest/current project?
Henry: Beethoven Cello Sonatas Op. 102 recording with Jia Kim (cello).
Christina & Michelle: Our newest album, American Postcard, on Warner Classics.
Angelo: I'm in the preparation stage of putting all ten Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano in three concerts. I hope there are concert series and venues that are interested in this huge and ambitious project, as Beethoven has always been my hero, and to present all his violin sonatas has been my dream for many years.
The Avery Fisher Career Grants of $25,000 give professional assistance and recognition to talented instrumentalists who the Recommendation Board and Executive Committee believe have great potential for solo careers. Since 2004, consideration is also given to chamber ensembles. Up to five Career Grants may be given each year. Recipients must be U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents. The Avery Fisher Artist Program is committed to all forms of diversity, with award recipients being chosen based on outstanding musical merit.
Eileen Willis is Editorial Director at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.