Chamber groups highlight symphony's winter concert

By Rich Freedman
Vallejo Times Herald
January 3, 2014

Nothing against sports. But when it came to childhood activities growing up in the East Bay, Stephanie Ng knew her passion was music. "Instead of soccer practice, I had orchestra rehearsals," she said. "It was not like my parents were musicians, but they were very supportive of my interest in lessons, and I am very grateful for that."

So is the Vallejo Symphony Orchestra. For six seasons, Ng has played violin for conductor David Ramadanoff. Ng also played for Ramadanoff with the Young People's Symphony Orchestra. "I have learned a lot working with him and I'm so pleased to be able to do so in a professional capacity," Ng said.

On Sunday, it's a chamber group - Divisa Ensemble - that Ng performs in as part of the Vallejo Symphony's winter concert - "Chamber Gems" - at the First Presbyterian Church in Vallejo. Avenue Winds also performs with a portion of each paid ticket benefiting victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Wherever Ng plays her viola is good with her. And she's played at some prestigious venues - Bolshoi Hall at the Moscow Conservatory, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Mariinsky theater in St. Petersburg, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

"I love playing music because I experience the work in an entirely different way than just listening," she said. "I feel like I can channel something that was penned hundreds of years ago when I play something like Brahms, but it can feel new and personal. But really, any type of music is another lens through which to view the world. It can be very emotionally powerful and make you feel something, or take you back to a specific time and place."

The Divisa Ensemble is in its fifth year and includes Adrienne Malley on oboe, Quelani Penland on violin, cellist Sara Styles, and Tomiko Tsai on flute.

It's a viable alternative when Ng isn't playing viola with the symphony. "I love the intimacy of chamber music," she said. "Everyone has an individual part to play and we all have a say in our finished product. It's pretty democratic. Plus, we were friends before starting the group, so it's really fun to work with people you like. I am fortunate to work with such talented people."

Working in rehearsal time is a different story. "We are all very active musicians and educators, so we do not often have the luxury to rehearse every week together," Ng said. "We practice individually, and most professional musicians try to practice a couple hours a day most days. Then, closer to a performance, we have a lot of rehearsals together to combine what we have worked on individually into a collective product."

Divisa Ensemble is unique because of its instruments, Ng said. "Most groups are either all winds or all strings," she said. "We have the ability to present some music that is seldom heard these days."

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