By Wilma Allen
Pianist William Ransom will take the stage Sunday, Jan. 14, at 5 p.m., for a solo performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. His wife, violist Yinzi Kong, also will accompany him for duets by Claude Debussy and Cesar Franck. A reception will follow in the bar at the Ritz-Carlton.
Ransom and Kong each began their musical training at age 5, he in Boston, she in Shanghai. They clearly have music in their blood and a deep love for chamber music. “As soon as I could reach the pedals with my feet, I began accompanying my older sister, Kate, who played violin,” Ransom said. “I love the solo repertoire, but there’s something special about making music with other people,” he says.
Kong gave her first public performance at age 7 and later helped found the Vega String Quartet. They both attended top music schools and have performed in concert halls around the world, earning accolades ever since.
In his new role as AICMF Artistic Director, Ransom selects musicians and seeks imaginative programs that honor the legacy of his predecessor, cellist Christopher Rex. Rex founded the organization 22 years ago with the primary mission of presenting “the greatest music in the world, some of the world’s greatest musicians, and imaginative, compelling programs,” Ransom says.
“Amelia Island is an extraordinary community for arts and entertainment,” he says. “It’s a beautiful island, unlike any other, and the community is so open, warm, and engaging. Musically, so much is happening here: it seems like almost every year there is something new.”
Besides heading up Amelia Island’s Chamber Music Festival, Ransom is professor of piano at Atlanta’s Emory University, and artistic director of both the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta and the Highland-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival in North Carolina. “I’m lucky – I get to go to the beach in the winter and the mountains in the summer!” he says.
He regularly appears as a soloist with orchestras, and as a chamber musician in concert halls around the nation and the world. He collaborates with top musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and Richard Stoltzman, and musical groups including Empire Brass Quintet and the Eroica Trio. He has worked with jazz great Dave Brubeck and American masters Chris Thile and Mark O’Connor. He was featured pianist in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway hit, The Piano Lesson, as well as the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on the same play.
Kong moved to the United States from Shanghai, China, in 1995. She has enjoyed a versatile career with solo and chamber music performances around the world. She also teaches as part of the Emory College Department of Music, has won top prizes at several international music competitions, and performed at Carnegie Hall and other esteemed concert venues. Her live performances have aired on NPR’s Performance Today.
In addition to this concert, Ransom will join festival favorite, the Dover Quartet, on January 19, for “The Magic of Mozart” at the Ritz-Carlton. The Dover Quartet has played here many times and around the world. At the Ritz, they will play Mozart quartets, and a quintet with clarinetist, David Shifrin.
Another of AICMF’s key missions is offering music education to students, concert attendees and aspiring young musicians. To that end, kids and families are invited to hear “Paddington Bear’s First Concert” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Saturday, Feb. 3 at Fernandina Beach Middle School. This family concert will feature top musicians and dancers choreographed by Susan Dodge, director of Amelia Island Dance Festival.
Now in its 23rd season, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival has become a major Amelia Island attraction. In future seasons, the overall format will remain the same — but Random plans to expand outreach and educational offerings by sending more musicians to visit schools and other local gathering places and offering master classes and instruction.
For tickets and information on these and the eight remaining programs this season, visit ameliachambermusic.org.