For the fortunate few dozen music lovers admitted, Sunday’s Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society concert at the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury was an experience to savor.
“We’ve been anxious to have some live music,” said Kim Baumhofer, president of the society’s board, as she introduced the show.
The Island’s first in-person classical performance held indoors in a year and a half, The Art of Duo: If Music Be the Food of Love proved to be a joyful — bordering on passionate — reunion for both the audience and the performers, cellist Eunghee Cho and pianist Jung-A Bang.
“It’s wonderful to see real live faces,” said a beaming Mr. Cho at the outset of the concert. “Nothing beats performing live for audiences, and something I think a lot of us musicians have taken for granted in the past is the power of having an audience and being able to see people and respond in person.”
A Ph.D. candidate at the New England Conservatory who has been providing music instruction to Island children through a virtual residency sponsored by the chamber music society, Mr. Cho also performed online in March as part of the Artists of MVCMS String Quartet.
Mr. Cho’s last live appearance on the Vineyard was in November 2019 at the West Tisbury Library, with the all-cello quartet Holes in the Floor.
Ms. Bang, making her Martha’s Vineyard debut, is also a New England Conservatory doctoral candidate, as well as an affiliate artist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both musicians said the West Tisbury audience was the largest they had played for since before the pandemic.
They opened their program with a medley of pieces titled Art of Duo Mixtape. In his introduction, Mr. Cho described it as a tribute to the Island’s chamber music community couched in a late-20th-century love language.
“When I was growing up, cassettes used to be a big thing,” he said.
“When we had a crush on someone we would make a mixtape for them, maybe to confess our love to them . . . This one is our way of saying thank you to all of you for being such incredible people and such incredible figures in the life of music in general.”
Mr. Cho and Ms. Bang’s live mix began with George Gershwin’s blue-note-rich It Ain’t Necessarily So, from the opera Porgy and Bess, in a cello and piano version derived by Mr. Cho from violinist Jascha Heifetz’s 1940s transcription.
The medley then took a turn toward the upper-case Romantic with works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, an English composer of mixed African and British heritage who wrote prolifically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Austrian-American violinist Fritz Kreisler, who was born the same year as Coleridge-Taylor but lived 50 years longer, until 1962; and self-taught American composer Amy Beach.
The mix concluded energetically with French conductor and famed music educator Nadia Boulanger’s frenetic Vite e nerveusement rhythmé.
“She wrote this piece originally for organ,” Mr. Cho told the audience in his introduction. “I honestly cannot imagine how an organ can play these fast notes in this piece, because it’s super-fiery, super-manic — and very short as well.”
Alumni of Boulanger’s composition classes have included Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones and Philip Glass, Mr. Cho said.
Another notable former Boulanger student was Astor Piazzolla, whose Grand Tango for Cello and Piano, originally composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, provided a pulsating finale to Sunday’s concert.
Mr. Cho and Ms. Bang also performed an early work by Richard Strauss, the Cello Sonata in F Major, Op. 6, written in 1883 when the composer was 19.
“It took a while for me to like this piece,” Ms. Bang confessed to the West Tisbury audience.
Working with Mr. Cho helped her discover the Strauss work’s appeal, she said.
“He brought a lot of spontaneous, improvisatory ideas,” Ms. Bang said.
“We talked a lot about story lines. Are you mad at me? Are you in love with me?”
The resulting three movements became a flowing, occasionally dramatic dialogue between cello and piano.
“Consistently, they’re having conversations and arguments,” Ms. Bang said.
There was a slight delay after her remarks: Just before the duo launched into the Strauss, the bell in the church steeple began to strike six o’clock.
His bow already lifted, Mr. Cho stayed his hand until the strokes ended, while Ms. Bang gently pressed a piano key in tune with one metal note. It was an A flat, she later said.
Also on Sunday, Ms. Baumhofer announced the chamber music society’s latest scholarship winner, Emily Weyl, who is heading to the Berklee College of Music.
Society vice president David Rhoderick said Ms. Weyl, who plays piano, cello and guitar, will study to be a music therapist.
The chamber music society’s next concert will be August 15 at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, celebrating longtime artistic director and pianist Dolores Stevens.