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Timothy Chooi's violin videos are a love letter to Montreal

Robert Rowat

If his YouTube channel is any indication, Timothy Chooi is on a roll.

The violinist from Victoria, B.C. has recently released two videos, with a promise of two more to come soon.

"Classical music has been viewed as difficult to understand and listen to," Chooi tells CBC Music. "I wanted to break that barrier, to show that although there are very complex works out there, there are [also] many works and pieces that can invite anybody to engage."

The most recent video is a performance of Rachmaninoff's popular Vocalise, with Janelle Fung on piano. It was filmed in St. George's Anglican Church in downtown Montreal, and the candle-lit video takes advantage of the space's architectural details.

Chooi, currently a master's student at Juilliard, plays the 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivari violin, on loan from the Canada Council's musical instrument bank. "This violin really shines when recorded, having a distinctive, clear sound that works so well in many environments — but particularly in a recording session."

The video was shot this past summer while Chooi was sojourning in one of his favourite cities. "Montreal has a special place in my heart because it continues to have a huge role in my advancing career," he reflects. "Montreal is a cultural hub of Canada, and I felt that it was the right city to research and experiment on this project. My wonderful crew happened to be based in Montreal so that was extremely convenient."

That crew comprises videographer Anne Kostalas, producer Benoît Chamontin and recording engineer Drew Schlegel, and they had a few logistic challenges to overcome while shooting the earlier video in the series, in which Chooi plays Vittorio Monti's Csárdás in Lionel-Groulx metro station.

"Just deciding on a good angle and location within the station was more complex than we initially thought," Chooi explains. "There were so many walls in that place that it was hard for the videographer to have enough room to walk around without hitting something. As the shots involved real-life action — people trying to catch the metro — it was a challenge to find the right moments to best represent the storyline and music. Since we couldn't get live audio in that setting, I had to play with my own recording, and there were technical glitches during the shooting. However, after countless hours of editing and syncing we were able to make it all work."

Producing these videos involved many firsts for Chooi.

"Managing a team was a new role for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed leading the idea. ​A​s a slight film geek myself, I really loved the process of framing the shots and helping the music have a visual storyline," he says. "Learning about syncing, about the whole editing process, was mind-blowing! The most exciting part was bringing all the shots back and discussing with Anne, my videographer, and my crew about which shots I liked, and putting it all together into one piece."

Chooi says the next two videos in the series will also depict impromptu concerts in unexpected settings.

More to explore:

Watch Timothy Chooi play Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

Watch Timothy Chooi play Paganini's Caprice No. 24 on his $5.5 million Strad

You'll enjoy this violin cover of 'Marietta's Song' from Korngold's Die tote Stadt

30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30, 2017 edition