“The Best Gig I Ever Saw” is a weekly column that will see us ask a musician to chat about their favorite concert thus far. This week it’s classical violinist Kristin Lee…

I have attended countless concerts in my life until now, both on stage and in the audience, but there are a few that stand out to me so greatly that it fuels me to this day on why I live my life as a musician.

One of those concerts was back in 2009 at Music@Menlo. I was attending the festival as a student after graduating with my master’s degree at The Juilliard School and feeling uncertain to what my future was going to shape into. I’ve been playing the violin my entire life and performing since I was 15, so the violin has always been something that I knew was there, but never really understood why  my life was with this wooden box.

Within the three week span at Music@Menlo, different artists come in and out every week, and I recall the day when Menahem Pressler stepped foot onto the Menlo campus. Mr. Pressler, the founding member of the legendary Beaux-Arts Trio, is one of the most important figures as a chamber musician. Not only for bringing Piano Trio repertoire to mainstream classical music, but he is equally notorious for having an intimidating presence. His recital that summer in 2009, when he was 85 years young in his 4’11” figure, changed my life forever and I will never look away from pursuing my life as a musician.

His program consisted of four-hands piano works by Schubert and Mendelssohn with pianist and director of Music@Menlo Wu Han, and the late Piano Sonatas by Schubert and Beethoven. The performance was held on a summer evening at a local church in town, a very unassuming and intimate setting but perfectly focused with the proper lighting and acoustics. I was sitting with all the students in the front row of the balcony level like I always did for all the concerts that summer. I remember from the moment Mr. Pressler walked on that stage, waddling but walking very briskly, it immediately communicated to me that he was there with a mission.

There was nothing pretentious about him and he didn’t look like he cared at all about how he comes across to the audience. However, he was there to pour out beyond his abilities to serve and play the music of these composers. Every note he touched on that piano was with a purpose, whether the listeners agree with that purpose or not, and nothing was left uncared for.

The concert went on for over two hours and ended with this man drenched in sweat, looking like he can die happy, and left me completely transformed. I was in a daze all night because I never encountered a concert that clarified my reasons for being a musician.

It wasn’t a specific sound he made or a certain phrase in the piece he performed, but it was seeing and listening to this 85-year-old man who is so sure of his duty as a pianist to continue to serve and search for what these composers left us with that gave me such clarity in the role of a musician. I’ve trained in the conservatory for so many years trying to perfect every note, but without knowing why. And that night, I found the answer.

I, to this day, think of that night back in 2009 to keep myself humble and grounded, and to remind myself that it is not about me, but about the music. It continues to excite me to pursue my life as a musician.

Kristin Lee and Camerata Pacifica play on Thursday, November 14 at the Herbert Zipper Concert Hall, Colburn School of Music.

LA Weekly