Friday, March 07, 2008

A forthcoming Spivey Hall debut: pianist Joyce Yang

The wonderful young Korean pianist Joyce Yang makes her Atlanta debut at Spivey Hall on Sunday, May 4, 2008 at 3 PM. She's just given a recital in Houston which includes several of the works she'll perform here, including Schumann's Carnaval, Brahms' Piano Pieces Op. 119, and Bach's Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue in D minor, BWV 903.

Here's what the critic of the Houston Chronicle had to say:

So, Yang's playing of the Fantasy and Fugue on the Steinway rather than a harpsichord had little effect on the brilliance of the work. Indeed, the joyous energy she brought to the fugue and the meticulous distinction between the fugue theme and its counter melody were exhilarating.

Both the Brahms and Schumann sets were character pieces — Brahms' abstract, Schumann's laden with extra-musical connections through the titles of the 21 movements. Yang stressed the dreamy side of Brahms and the sometimes quixotic, quick-cut changes of character in the Schumann pieces. She delivered both sets with authority, superb musicianship and, above all, a simplicity that was beguiling.

All this rings true to me. I first encountered Joyce Yang in concert when I attended the final rounds of the most recent Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, where she was honored with the Silver Medal. Her connection with the audience was unmistakable, and I was very taken by the musicianship she revealed in all of her performances. She also was enthusiastically recommended by the Takacs Quartet (also performing at Spivey Hall this spring -- Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 3 PM), with which all the Cliburn Competition finalists performed chamber music, and this endorsement strenghened my resolve to invite her to Spivey Hall. She was already enjoying a very promising career before becoming a Cliburn Competition winner, and since then has moved from strength to strength.

In Fort Worth and in Houston, Joyce played the Piano Sonata No. 1 by Australian composer Carl Vine with special success. I know Carl Vine and his work from my days of managing artists and repertoire for the national network of the six Symphony Australia orchestras, for which he has written several symphonies, well-received by musicians and audiences alike. Alas, Joyce won't be playing Carl's Sonata for us in May (I believe this has to do with repertoire she must prepare and perform later this spring; her Spivey Hall program will close with Brahms' bracingly virtuosic Variations on a Theme by Paganini). It's an extremely effective piece, one that I've enjoyed hearing time and again over the years (I last heard it in concert at the Aspen Music Festival in 2001). Pianists continue to program and perform it, and I'm delighted it seems to be finding a permanent place in the repertoire. I encourage anyone who loves solo piano music to hunt down a CD and give it a listen -- or better yet, hear Joyce or another solo pianist perform it if you have the opportunity. It's a fantastic piece.


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