Musician and impresario Jeff Yang’s journey was long and unusual, beginning in Taiwan, where he was born in 1971; further in Seattle, where he moved with his family at the age of 8; and graduated from Evanston, where he received his master’s degree in music performance from Northwestern University.
He now owns and operates the Chicago Strings music store on Orrington Ave. 1642 in downtown Evanston. He is also a violinist with the Chicago Philharmonic and other ensembles, and organizes concerts with his nonprofit organization In the Realm of the Senses.
The organization’s website describes it as “a sensory arts project that is a symbiosis of artistic mediums that engage all of our five senses through music, visual arts, gastronomy, the arts of smell, literature, theater and dance.”
From a 2019 multimedia performance of In the Realm of the Senses of Mussorgsky’s famous piano suite Pictures of an exhibition, Third Coast Review wrote, “The experience of beauty through the engagement of our sense of sound, senses, smell, sight and taste fused into one cohesive performance piece was unprecedented.”
Yang will perform the Mussorgsky play on Friday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at the Epiphany Center for the Arts on S. Ashland Ave. Repeat 201. Tickets cost $50 and can be purchased in advance on the In the Realm of the Senses website. All proceeds go to Ukrainian charities. Doors open at 5pm for Epiphany’s “fabulous golden hour and pre-show food, cocktails and music”. More information can be found here.
To render the many instrumental sounds pictures of an exhibition Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, Yang will perform on violin, viola, cello and four different baroque recorders, and will be accompanied by Belarusian pianist Lyudmila Lakisova.
In contrast to traditional musical performances, Yang has invited a slew of artists to contribute their vision for the piece, including Galina Shevchenko, who will provide visual projections; Christophe Laudamiel combines “scented sculptures” with music; and the works of visual artists LIviu Pasare, Farnaz Khosh-Sirat, John Gaudette, Maja Bosen, Azadeh Houssaini, and Kioto Aoki.
“We’re going to be creating new content for this performance,” he said, noting that he’s enlisted the work of artists in film, stop-motion photography, animation, perfumery and more.
Yang founded In the Realm of the Senses in 2018 but had the original idea many years earlier. “It took me about 10 years to figure out how to bring all the sensory experiences into concert performance. I always wanted something other than just music,” he said.
He performed the immersive multimedia version of pictures of an exhibition previously, at venues including the City Winery, the Chopin Theatre, the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, a Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Music Series, and the PianoForte Chicago. Each performance is unique, “based on the work and vision of the artists selected,” he said.
Perhaps Yang’s eclectic artistic vision reflects his eclectic background. His father fought as a colonel in the Chinese Nationalist Army under Chang Kai-shek during World War II and spent time in a Japanese POW camp. He moved to Taiwan with his family as refugees from China, and when China threatened to invade Taiwan, he moved to Seattle. Yang points out that Taiwan’s situation today is not unlike that of Ukraine before the Russian invasion, as China has frequently threatened to repatriate the island.
In Taiwan, his father started an import-export business, which enabled his family to live comfortably. Yang began taking violin lessons at the age of 4. His two sisters also studied music, but did not pursue a career. He holds three bachelor’s degrees – in music, fine arts and industrial engineering – from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he studied violin with renowned music teacher and performer Steven Staryk.
Yang later studied with Gerardo Ribeiro at Northwestern and went to DePaul University to study with Joseph Genualdi, who founded the Muir String Quartet, the Chicago String Quartet and directed the Chicago Chamber Musicians.
Yang received a master’s degree in violin from Northwestern in 1997 and a Performer’s Certificate from Roosevelt University in 1999.
Since then he has performed in a variety of classical and contemporary music ensembles. For 10 years he was a member of the Corky Segal Chamber Blues and the band Mannheim Steamroller. He has also been concertmaster for the New Millennium Orchestra in Chicago, the Emerald City Orchestra in Seattle, the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the National Repertory Orchestra in Colorado.
He has also appeared on numerous PBS soundstage Performing with Jewel, Faith Hill, Lyle Lovett and others, and supporting artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Bernadette Peters in concert.
“It’s been a wonderful, varied and interesting career,” Yang said. “Making music in all these different ensembles has been enormously rewarding, especially the unique collaboration that defines In the Realm of the Senses.”