Campus & Community

First string — Violinist Joseph Lin ’00 and friends to perform benefit concert for PBHA

6 min read
Violinist Joseph Lin ’00

This isn’t your ordinary student concert.

Not that any of Harvard’s talented undergraduate musicians can be called ordinary, but even in such brilliant company the star of this event shines with a unique luster.

Joseph Lin ’00, a concentrator in the Study of Religion and a resident of Mather House, also happens to be one of the hottest young violinists on the concert circuit these days, and he has the resumé to prove it.

On May 15, Lin will perform in a benefit concert for the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) Centennial Campaign. Titled “Joseph Lin and Friends,” the concert promises to be a memorable one.

In 1996 Lin received first prize in an international competition sponsored by the Concert Artists Guild, and in 1999 he won the Pro Musica International Award. In 1994 he was the youngest participant and prize-winner at the Hannover International Violin Competition. This spring he received Harvard’s Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts for outstanding artistic achievement over the course of his college career.

‘Big, beautiful tone’

The critics have hailed him as an emerging virtuoso. In a review of his recital debut, Strings magazine described Lin as “enormously talented, relaxed and dignified, his brilliant technique and big, beautiful tone always at the service of the music.”

At the PBHA benefit, Lin will start off with Bach’s Chaconne, one of the most technically demanding pieces in the solo violin repertoire. He will follow that up with Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, with Benjamin Loeb ’89 at the piano. For the second part of the program Lin and Loeb will be joined by violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama and cellist Marcy Rosen for a performance of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3.

“Each piece is a masterpiece in its own right,” Lin said. “We had our first rehearsal of the Brahms the other day, and it’s coming together so nicely. We could basically perform the piece now.”

The relationship between Lin and Loeb is a close and longstanding one. The two met in New York when Lin was in high school and attending the Julliard School’s special pre-college program on Saturdays. Loeb was the accompanist for Lin’s class and remembers his first impression of the young violinist’s playing.

“We were playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, and from the first note I knew he was something special. I was blown away. I said to myself, I just have to play with this kid.”

Loeb is an outstanding musician in his own right, steadily building a reputation as a soloist, accompanist, conductor, and composer. As leader of the Benjamin Loeb Ensemble, he has toured with his sister, singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb.

Since that meeting at Julliard, he has served as Lin’s regular piano accompanist and is still impressed with the violinist both as a musician and as a person.

“His playing has sincerity. He’s never just playing the violin. He’s using the violin to express music and to express emotions.”

‘The best kind of music-making’

Like Lin, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama is a rising star on her instrument, and also like Lin, she is a Harvard student, currently working toward a theological studies degree at the Divinity School. Ngwenyama began playing the viola at age 12, the result of what she describes as “an epiphany.”

She had been studying the violin for several years when she heard a viola in a recording of a Mendelssohn octet. She fell in love with the sound before she even knew what the instrument was.

“It has a very warm, human quality,” she said. “As soon as I heard it, I knew that was the instrument I had to play.”

The child of a Japanese mother and a Zimbabwean father, Ngwenyama grew up in Southern California and has known she wanted to be a musician since the age of 4. In 1994, at 17, she won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions competition, the first violist in 14 years to do so.

During that same year she performed before a Congressional Committee hearing as an advocate of funding for the arts, turning in what was described as “a stunning performance.”

Since then, she has been much in demand on the concert stage and has been regarded by critics as an exciting young star who is bringing new attention to an instrument rarely heard in a featured role.

Recently, she has been leading a double life, as a concert musician and a graduate student. Asked whether she sees a connection between music and theology, she replied:

“When you perform, there are certain moments when you feel that the music is going through you, through the instrument, and out into the audience. You feel completely devoid of self. I think when people have faith in something, it resembles that kind of state.”

Ngwenyama looks forward to performing with Lin and friends on May 15.

“We all get along very well together, and that’s the best kind of music-making.”

Cellist Marcy Rosen is a founding member of the Mendelssohn String Quartet, a group of musicians who have served as Blodgett Artists-in-Residence for the past eight years. The group has performed with Lin several times, both at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont and at Harvard.

“He’s a terrifically talented violinist,” Rosen said. “He has a wonderful insight into music. His gift is very natural. I’m sure he’ll do great things in the world.”

Not only is the concert an opportunity to hear extremely talented young musicians perform great music, but it also benefits a good cause. The PBHA, a student-run public service organization, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has a long tradition of giving benefit concerts, often featuring extraordinary musicians. Yo-Yo Ma ’76, was one of these musicians, who performed in a PBHA benefit concert in 1990.

“I knew PBHA had a history of doing benefit concerts, and I thought it would be a nice way of giving my final concert as an undergraduate,” Lin said. “Other musicians came to mind, and it turned out they were all available. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to perform with them. They’re all such good players and great people. I’m sure the concert will be wonderful.”

“Joseph Lin and Friends” will take place Monday, May 15, at 7:30 p.m., at Sanders Theatre. Regular tickets are $20 or $10 for students. A limited number of preferred tickets at $30 and $15 for students include a post-concert reception with the artists. For further information, call the Harvard Box Office at (617) 496-2222.