NEW YORK — The lives of violinist Joan Kwuon and her husband, violinist Joel Smirnoff, a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, are focused on music. But breast cancer took center stage in Kwuon's life in the summer of 1999.
Kwuon felt a lump in her breast on the day she played Brahms' "Violin Concerto" at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. She had a mastectomy in November, followed by chemotherapy.
Now the couple has started a foundation: Artists for Breast Cancer Survival Inc.
In September, an Artists for the Cure concert of classical music at Carnegie Hall raised some $250,000 for research at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center, where Kwuon received her chemotherapy. Next year, Kwuon and Smirnoff hope to organize a gospel or pop concert, with funds going to New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, where she had her surgery.
Kwuon, 31, is the youngest of four daughters of Korean parents, who moved to Los Angeles 40 years ago. She says breast cancer has inspired her to pursue her musical career even more.
"The new dimension is bringing music to help find a cure," she says.
Kwuon is concentrating on learning music and preparing for an increasing number of recitals and concerts each season.
Question:How did you start playing violin?
Kwuon: I was lucky enough to be in a public school that had music classes. . . . I just responded to violin more than any other instrument. They loaned instruments but not until the fourth grade. I pleaded, and they loaned me a violin in the first grade.
Question:Why did you start Artists for Breast Cancer Survival?
Kwuon: The night I came home from the hospital after my operation, I stayed up the entire night and tried to think of a way to turn something bad into something positive and great. And when your body is doing things you're not in control of, there's a great need to do something active. With music being really my life, it seemed most appropriate to connect performers with the goal of finding a cure for breast cancer.
Question:How did you get Andre Previn to play piano and also conduct you in Mozart's "Violin Concerto No. 3" at the concert?
Kwuon: I was teaching at Tanglewood in 1998 and I played the Sibelius "Violin Concerto" over and over, for student conductors. He heard me. Soon after, he engaged me to play as soloist with the NHK Symphony of Tokyo in the spring of 2001. He was very concerned and understanding when he heard I was ill and enthusiastic very early on when the foundation was just a little tiny idea floating around. So it was very natural for me, in planning a benefit, to ask him to be part of it.
Question:Do you have a special dream?
Kwuon: Bob Dylan performing at an Artists for the Cure concert. And I'd like to be around playing, performing, when they find a cure for breast cancer.
Question:Do you have any other craving besides music?
Kwuon: Chocolate. Dark and bitter. Both my husband and I buy it. We love it.