Music for Food, Music for Peace, Music for Healing…good intentions abound within the Boston musician community. For a half a century (considering its roots), Massachusetts Peace Action has been advancing the cause of peace and redressing the damages caused by its breach. Pianist, composer, teacher, and conductor Victor Rosenbaum has directed Music for Peace, a fundraising subsidiary for the past decade. Soovin Kim, Gloria Chien, James Buswell, Paul Katz, are but a few of the many past participants.

Last Saturday night at Harvard Epworth Church in Cambridge, Rosenbaum led a volunteer chamber orchestra and two young soloists in a pair of Mozart concertos to “benefit humanitarian relief for war victims in Ukraine and Yemen.” According to MAPA:

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is causing immense human suffering. NATO expansion led up to the situation. There is no military solution and we call for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated settlement, not more weapons, troops, or sanctions. Read our statement on the Russia-Ukraine war. Our donations will support humanitarian relief for Ukrainian refugees.

The Saudi/UAE bombing war in Yemen, using US-supplied planes, bombs, and missiles, has gone on for seven years with over 377,000 war deaths and 10 million Yemenis facing starvation, although a ceasefire is currently holding. Our donations will support the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, led by Dr. Aisha Jumaan. Watch our interview with Dr. Jumaan.

Before the concert-benefit began, MAPA assistant director Brian Garvey welcomed newcomers, expressing pleasure that “…some of you might be here for the music.” Were many there despite the music? Having no expectations for the chamber orchestra that had volunteered for the cause, we came to hear the two young soloists making their concerto debuts.

Mozart’s late, beloved Concerto in A Major, K. 488 for piano and orchestra, (one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings) provided the vehicle for ten-year-old Kingsley Chen. The Hong Kong native began piano studies at the age of three, and settled in Las Vegas for some lessons with famed Ukrainian virtuoso Mykola Suk before enrolling in New England Conservatory Preparatory Division under Victor Rosenbaum. Kingsley says his dream is to bring beautiful music to the world, and believes music is a “dialogue of the soul.”

Robert Chew photo

After the long introduction with some colorful wind contributions, Chen emerged with the tune over alberti bass, impressing us with unassuming natural musicality. He seems to engage with the meaning underneath the notes as he develops the traits of a patient listener and engaging advocate. From what we could tell of his telegraphy, which indicated shapely dynamics and tasteful rubatos, conductor Rosenbaum knows how the piece goes. The surprisingly straight-backed orchestra responded to his exhortations after its fashion, sometimes conveying the conductor’s intentions with enthusiasm.

Chen nailed the first movement cadenza with elan and confidence. In the Adagio movement he achieved a poetic luminosity clearly inspired by his teacher. Rosenbaum’s tempo for the joyful Allegro assai third movement just ripped, making no accommodation for the ad hoc players. Chen’s fast scales, alberti, and arpeggios sounded muscular but light…no mean feat!

Chen encored with a moonstruck take on the Fantasie-Impromptu of Chopin. The cross-rhythms and enharmonicity inspired rather than daunted him in his chase for those famous rainbows.

We had heard violinist Jean Huang a week earlier when she served as concertmistress for the impressive Vangarde orchestra. Her brief solos during that concert signified that she had chops. How can it be that the locally well-known NEC DMA hadn’t already had the opportunity to deliver on a concerto? Mozart’s earlier No. 5 in A Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 219 gave her the chance; with wind parts only for two horns and two oboes, the 12 often-divisi and oft-tremulating strings got more exposure than in K. 488. But our eyes and ears concentrated on the elegant and outgoing Huang. With both serious attitude and a million-dollar smile, she gave a riveting account of the 28-minute Turkish concerto…but don’t those Janissary aspects require a trigger warning in the context of this benefit? Would the Kurds and Armenians invite Turkey to a peace conference?

Huang chose a contemplative encore, the Largo from Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005 which allowed us to absorb her transcendent tone and consider her projection of the poignantly complex implied harmony.

Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer

* Victor Rosenbaum has concertized widely as piano soloist and chamber music performer in the United States, Europe, Israel, Brazil, Russia, and Asia in such prestigious halls as Tully Hall in New York and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. He has collaborated with such artists as Leonard Rose, Paul Katz, Arnold Steinhardt, Robert Mann, Joseph Silverstein, James Buswell, Malcolm Lowe, and the Brentano, Borromeo, and Cleveland String Quartets. His much-praised recordings are on the Bridge and Fleur de Son labels.

Rosenbaum has guest conducted the New England Conservatory Orchestra, The Quincy Symphony Orchestra, The Mystic Valley Chamber Orchestra (now the New England Philharmonic), and for such illustrious soloists as Colin Carr, Claude Frank, Pamela Frank, Samuel Rhodes (of the Juilliard Quartet) and Eugenia Zukerman. He formed a chamber orchestra, The Concerto Company, whose mission was to provide young artists with the opportunity to perform with orchestra. He is Music Director of the Music for Peace series.