Classical music is said to soothe the soul, but can it calm an upset stomach? Ellicott City resident Dr. Christopher Shih, a gastroenterologist who plays a little piano on the side, is likely to make listeners feel better when he appears as a guest artist for the Pacifica Quartet concert on Saturday, April 14 at 8 p.m. at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.
"I wear two hats. As long as I can remember, I've worn both hats," Shih, 39, explains. "I knew from when I was five that I would study to be a doctor, but I also played the piano."
Medicine and music harmoniously fit together in a busy life that also includes three young daughters. He observes that the discipline and idealism associated with medicine have parallels in classical music.
"On a basic level, people who are brought up to have ethics and values and a work ethic can apply it to learning an instrument. On a spiritual level, people want to reach out to others and improve their lives. There's definitely overlap."
Dr. Shih will have his chance to shine on this upcoming Candlelight Concert Society program, but the bulk of the program will find the stage occupied by the Pacifica Quartet. This chamber music ensemble recently was appointed the quartet in residence at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, a position that had been held for 43 years by the Guarneri String Quartet.
The Pacifica has other recent honors to its credit, including being named ensemble of the year by Musical America magazine and receiving the 2009 Grammy Award for best chamber music album.
Comprised of cellist Brandon Vamos, violinists Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson, and violist Masumi Per Rostad, the Pacifica on its own will perform Beethoven's Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6, "La Malinconia"; and Shostakovich's Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73. Then the quartet temporarily becomes a quintet at this Candlelight program when it is joined by Dr. Shih for Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44.
Although it's the first time he has collaborated with the Pacifica Quartet, Dr. Shih is no stranger to this particular Howard County stage. He points out that his several previous appearances for Candlelight Concert Society were as a soloist, and so he's really looking forward to this upcoming chamber music program at Smith Theatre.
When the doctor isn't practicing medicine at his office in Laurel, he's apt to be practicing the piano at home. He gives three or four public concerts per year at venues that have taken him to France, Taiwan, Germany, Canada, Hungary, Austria and various American cities.
He also has scored well in several competitions for amateur pianists. He won the Van Cliburn Foundation's Sixth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in 2011; and in recent years has won similar amateur competitions in Washington, Boston and Paris.
This full-time doctor and part-time pianist says he does not accept payment for his classical music concert bookings, but generally gives any artist fee back to the sponsoring organization.
When he says "I perform for the love of it," it's a sentiment that surely pleases concert presenters as much as concert audiences. Beautiful music and not grumbling stomachs will fill the air.
The Pacifica Quartet and guest pianist Christopher Shih perform Saturday, April 14 at 8 p.m. at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $30, $28 for seniors, $12 for students. Call 410-997-2324 or go to http://www.candlelightconcerts.org.