When Yi-Jia Susanne Hou hears Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto No. 5, she can’t help but think of a steaming plate of schnitzel.
To her, the breaded meat cutlet served piping hot, with a lemon wedge and a dollop of potato salad, evokes memories of her first visit to Vienna, where Mozart wrote most of his masterworks.
“It was like going through a time machine to 100 years ago,” said Hou. “I was moving slower than normal, floating along at a twilight tempo, when I walked into this schnitzel house. They had schnitzel bigger than the plate. After I ate, I went walking, not slower, but at the same pace as everyone else. Vienna reminds me of these intense flavours, which, of course, you wash down with a big, bold coffee.”
Hou plans to play the Mozart concerto with the same intensity when she joins the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra for its Melodic Spirits concerts throughout the valley this weekend.
Calling from Dallas, TX, where she was rehearsing for a Chamber Music International performance, Hou plans to be in the Okanagan all week and will indulge in all the valley has to offer, and that includes one of its biggest exports.
“The Okanagan has an amazing blend of grapes and a tremendous amount of people who know about grapes. I think it is one of the paces in the world that produces as fine a wine as Bordeaux,” she said.
Known as the Shanghai sensation, Hou is as fascinated –– make that obsessed –– with food, especially chocolate, as she is passionate about the violin.
The first violinist in history to capture three gold medals with unanimous decisions at three international violin competitions, Hou is also an alumnus of the international Celtic strings group Bowfire, and has played with just about every major symphony in Canada, China, and beyond.
Her career path has led her to some of the most musical cities in the world that are just as known for their gastronomical delights. (Her website, susannehou.com, even features the series entitled Hou to Dine, where she lists some of her favourite restaurants, complete with menu selections.)
“I grew up in a home with two things: my mom’s cooking and everyone practising music. All I did was eat and play music,” laughed Hou.
Born in Shanghai to a musical family –– both her mother and father are violinists –– she began studying violin with her father, Alec Hou, who, was once jailed in China during the Cultural Revolution for playing western music.
Hou and her family later moved to Toronto, and she eventually ended up in New York, where she attended the city’s prestigious Juilliard School, where she received her bachelor of music and continued her studies.
“You know parents, they always want you to do more, but they have been very thrilled with what I’ve done and instilled in me a love of music and training,” said Hou about her family’s support. “They have always motivated me to do my best on all fronts. That’s why they were insistent that I go to regular high school and learn all the subjects. It’s one of the reasons I took physics at Columbia (University) while I was at Juilliard.”
Hou still studies science and has been involved with a number of projects based around her interests. And yes, that includes food.
“Music and food and music and science are definitely correlated,” she said. “The Economist recently published an article on what Beethoven’s music would smell and taste like. What you hear can affect taste. In an experiment, people were given pieces of toffee while listening to different pitches and they each described the taste of the toffee differently. I find that fascinating.”
Hou will be able to indulge in her senses with her return to the Okanagan, especially since she gets to perform and eat at Vernon’s “crystal in the rough,” the Sparkling Hill Wellness Resort, which was developed by Austria’s Swarovski family.
Hou will be a part of a fundraising event at the resort Thursday, March 8 to send Armstrong violinist Colleen Venables to a prestigious competition in China. (See Sunday’s Morning Star for a story on the fundraiser.)
“I am definitely going to order schnitzel from the Austrian chef at Sparkling Hill,” said Hou.
“I’m also looking forward to working with the symphony and (music director) Rosemary Thomson. I know with Mozart, everyone will feel the vibe and get the intensity of flavours from the stage.”
The Okanagan Symphony will also perform Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major at its concert in the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Sunday at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $48/adult, $42/senior, $22/youth and $10/music student at the Ticket Seller box office in the Performing Arts Centre. Call 250-549-7469 or visit www.ticketseller.ca.