Musician and impresario Jeff Yang’s journey has been long and unusual, beginning in Taiwan, where he was born in 1971; continuing to Seattle, where he moved with his family when he was eight; and ending in Evanston, where he earned his Masters in Music Performance from Northwestern University.
Today, he owns and operates the Chicago Strings music store at 1642 Orrington Ave. in downtown Evanston. He is also a violinist with the Chicago Philharmonic and other ensembles and organizes concerts with his non-profit organization, In the Realm of the Senses.
The organization’s website describes it as “a sensory art project representing a symbiosis of artistic mediums that engage our five senses through music, visual arts, gastronomy, olfactory art, literature, theater and dance”.
From a 2019 multimedia performance by In the Realm of the Senses of Mussorgsky’s famous piano suite paintings at an exhibition, Third Coast Review wrote, “The experience of beauty through the engagement of our senses of sound, senses, smell, sight and taste blended into one cohesive performance piece was unparalleled.”
Yang will perform Mussorgsky’s play at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 22 at the Epiphany Center for the Arts at 201 S. Ashland Ave. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased in advance from In the Realm of the Senses. website. All profits are donated to Ukrainian charities. Doors open at 5 p.m. for Epiphany’s “Fabulous Golden Hour” and pre-show food, cocktails and music. More information is available here.
To reproduce the many instrumental sounds of Pictures at 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.
Unlike conventional musical performances, Yang invited an entire team of artists to contribute their vision for the piece, including Galina Shevchenko providing visual projections; Christophe Laudamiel associating “olfactory sculptures” with music; and the works of visual artists LIviu Pasare, Farnaz Khosh-Sirat, John Gaudette, Maja Bosen, Azadeh Houssaini and Kioto Aoki.
“We will be creating new content for this performance,” he said, noting that he has engaged 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 come up with the original idea several years earlier. “It took me about 10 years to figure out how to bring all the sensory experiences into the concert. I was always after something different than music,” he said.
He performed the immersive multimedia version of Pictures at an exhibition before, including at the City Winery, the Chopin Theatre, the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, a Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Music Series, and PianoForte Chicago. Each performance is unique and different “based on the work and vision of the selected artists”, he said.
Perhaps Yang’s eclectic artistic vision reflects his eclectic background. Her father fought in World War II as a colonel in the Chinese Nationalist Army under Chang Kai-shek and spent time in a Japanese POW camp. He moved his family to Taiwan as refugees from China, and when China threatened to invade Taiwan, he moved to Seattle. Yang points out that Taiwan’s situation today is no different from 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 that allowed his family to live comfortably. Yang started violin lessons when she was 4 years old. His two sisters also studied music, although neither pursued a professional career. He holds three bachelor’s degrees in music, arts, and industrial engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he studied violin with renowned music teacher and performer Steven Staryk.
Yang then 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 led the Chicago Chamber Musicians.
Yang earned a master’s degree in violin from Northwestern in 1997 and a performer’s certificate in 1999 from Roosevelt University.
Since then he has performed in a wide variety of classical and contemporary music ensembles. For 10 years he was a member of the Corky Segal Chamber Blues as well as the Mannheim Steamroller band. In addition, he was concertmaster of 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 also appeared in many PBS sound stage performances with Jewel, Faith Hill, Lyle Lovett and others, as well as 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 extremely satisfying, especially the unique collaborations that make up In the Realm of the Senses.”