March 12, 2012



(Portland, OR) – Music Director Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony are pleased to announce the selection of Sarah Kwak as the orchestra’s new concertmaster.  Ms. Kwak, who is currently the First Associate Concertmaster with the Minnesota Orchestra, recently led the orchestra twice as an invited guest following her November audition.  In January she joined the orchestra and Kalmar for Haydn’s Creation, and in February The Oregonian critic singled out her “soulful solos” in his review of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5.

Kalmar was vigorous in his praise of Ms. Kwak:  “In the two concerts Sarah performed with us, she displayed two very different skills critical for a concertmaster.  On the Haydn program she provided beautiful style and refinement.  On the second program, she was not only a very strong leader, but a powerhouse when needed and the sweetest leading violinist when it came to her solos.  The chemistry between us was amazing.  She is a very calm, poised leader who has the respect of all of us.  She is going to be a great concertmaster for the Oregon Symphony.”

Reacting to the news of her selection, Ms. Kwak recalled her appearances with the orchestra:  “It was such a pleasure to make music and play from the heart with this orchestra.  The musicians respond so beautifully and effortlessly to Carlos’ every nuance.  The Oregon Symphony has been enjoying great acclaim from its Carnegie Hall debut last year and its subsequent CD.  Carlos has been making great strides with this orchestra, and I look forward to helping him achieve even greater success.”

Symphony President Elaine Calder said:  “It will be a pleasure to welcome Sarah to this important position at the start of the 2012/13 season.  She brings both talent and experience in abundance and will be an important part of our continued success in Portland.  We look forward to introducing her to our audiences, our community and our City – and to having her in the concertmaster chair when we take the orchestra to Benaroya Hall in Seattle and back to Carnegie Hall in May 2013.”

Ms. Kwak has been a member of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1988 where she served as acting concertmaster from January 2010 to September 2011.  She has performed as a soloist with that orchestra in many works, including Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, Wieniawski’s Second Violin Concerto, Bach’s Double Violin Concerto and the Brahms Double Concerto.  This coming May she will again be featured as a soloist, performing the Glazunov Violin Concerto.  In 2006 she was a soloist in two world premieres: Kevin Puts’ Sinfonia concertante and Steve Heitzeg’s Peace Cranes.

Ms. Kwak, a 2008 McKnight Artist Fellowship winner, has been a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Houston Symphony and Curtis Chamber Orchestra, and has toured internationally with the Casa Verde Trio, including a three-and-a-half-week tour of China.  She was a founding member of the Rosalyra String Quartet, which made its New York debut in 1996 and was awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship in 2000.  With Rosalyra, she recorded a CD of Bartók and Beethoven quartets for Boston Records, as well as Shostakovich and Brahms CDs for the Artegra label.  In 2008, the ensemble released an album of Fauré piano quartets.

Born in Boston, Ms. Kwak entered Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute at the age of 12, studied briefly at the Vienna Hochschule für Musik and graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1983.  Among her teachers were Joseph Sivo, Ivan Galamian and Szymon Goldberg.  The first artist ever to capture all three memorial awards at the Washington International Competition, she also won the 1989 WAMSO Young Artist Competition.  She has also served on the faculty of Princeton University.

Ms. Kwak succeeds former concertmaster Jun Iwasaki, who left the orchestra last June to become the concertmaster at the Nashville Symphony.  In the interim, key leadership has been provided by Associate Concertmaster Peter Frajola.

She and her husband, violinist Vali Phillips, who won a position in the violin section in auditions earlier this season, have three children:  Sophie, a senior at Amherst College who will be starting medical school at the University of Minnesota in the fall; Peter, a freshman at Northwestern University majoring in chemical engineering; and Aaron, a high school sophomore.  They will take up residence in Portland during the summer and Ms. Kwak will begin her official duties as concertmaster with the free Waterfront Park Concert and the first classical concert—“Opening with a Bang”—featuring the wildly popular percussionist Colin Currie.


Jim Fullan
Vice President, Communications, Marketing & Sales