Monday, June 23, 2008

Day 4: Chopin; Duos; Speeches & Concertos

On a day that lasted a grueling 9 hours, the moment arrived which contestants had been waiting a long time for. It was an enjoyable day, getting to know each individual's style, their take on the concertos, and also to learn from their insightful comments.

Choo Choo began with an emotionally sincere, technically solid, and melodious performance of Chopin's Nocturne No. 17 in B major, Opus 62, No. 1. The musical lines flowed out of one another, revealing her ability to play expressively and balance many musical lines. In the Mozart sonata for violin and piano in A major, K. 305, the duo was tight and together, though at times the piano sounded bottom heavy, and the violinist had to work hard for its own accompaniment passages to be heard. Finally came Mozart's Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488. She had obviously done research on the work about the spirit of the piece, more than the analytical side. Then, she compared it to the journey of a wise old man's reminiscence and illustrated her points well, as well as compared it to a garden. Her performance sounded nice, and she shined in the cadenza, though short, with her light phrases and technical execution.

Yoshiko's performance of Chopin Nocturne No. 5 in F-sharp major, Opus 15, No. 2 showed her full understanding of the form. She opened meekly, then matched the fullness needed in an agitato. Her return of the main theme was stronger and more emotional. By the end, one felt rested. She had a fine balance with the cello in Beethoven's Seven Variations from Mozart's Magic Flute. She passed off thematic material smoothly. In her speech, Yoshiko gave a nice historical background and a fine analysis comparing opera and Mozart's Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453. It was a clever, cute speech that expressed her joy for the music. Her playing was nice and light, with good voicing between hands and a good sense of temporal space, though in some difficult passages, notes were occasionally lost. Her cadenza was thoughtful, the phrases tastefully stretched and shaped.

Amy enveloped the spirit of this Chopin Nocturne No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Opus 27, no. 1. Her transitions were particularly well-played from a subdued character to victorious and to dark. In Beethoven's Seven Variations on "Bei Mannern, welche Liebe Fuhlen" from Mozart's Magic Flute, the bass could have been brought down for cello solos. Yet Amy was very expressive and sensitive to her quality of tone and the overall dynamic. Her speech was sincere, personal, and well-planned. One of her great points was that "the rests are as important as the notes" - something that many young pianists are unaware of. She presented the themes clearly and told why they were significant to her. A solid performance of Mozart's Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488 was tarnished by a memory slip, but her touch and phrasing were elegant throughout.

Brian performed Chopin Nocturne No. 8 in D-flat major, Opus 27, No. 2. He was good at implementing a wash of sonorities with long pedals, still avoiding blurriness. Brian also led the ear by skillfully highlighting harmony changes. Though the melody was fluid, the octave flourishes seemed labored. The climax seemed anticipated and did not come across as redeeming as the harmony begs. In effect, the special quality of the ending - which he played well - was less pronounced. Brian was fully committed in his Mozart duo's performance of the E minor, K. 304 sonata. It sounded like two soloists, and not a background accompanist. The music was full of direction and dynamics, the soloists feeding off each other. Last, he performed Beethoven's Concerto No. 1 in C major, Opus 15. His speech was brisk and intellectually driven, as he vividly laid out Beethoven's theoretical map: He gave examples how in the first movement piano and orchestra contrast, in the second they accompany, and in the third they get to close and clash. His strong technique produced clear, full runs and his playing was lively and confident. Some spots could have used some softening to add grace to this relatively early Beethoven work.

Paige's Chopin Nocturne No. 17 in B major, Opus 62, No. 1 was strong and bold, soaking up harmonies and evolving till the end. In the duo, playing Beethoven's Twelve Variations on Handel's Judas Maccabeus, the minor variation was a bit loud when the cello solos and seems to aim for a more mysterious mood. On the whole, she interacted with the cellist smoothly with a quick and powerful technique. Still, attention to some phrase endings wavered, and she overpowered the cello in the variation with octaves in the bass. She spoke well for only living in America for one year, and she had an understanding of her audience. She chose the third cadenza in Beethoven's Concerto No. 1 in C major, Opus 15 because she felt it was "stronger, more passionate, and intense." And that is how she performed it. Paige played melodies expressively, and scales changed between light, light and staccato, and strong. Her playing was rhythmically tight, and the energy emanated between the two pianists.

From the first note, Sejoon drew in the listener during Chopin's Nocturne No. 5 in F-sharp major, Opus 15, No. 2. His touch was gentle yet full; legato and beautifully pedaled. It had the mature melancholy spirit of Chopin, late at night. The Mozart sonata for violin and piano in A major, K. 305 was energetic and driving. It was Beethoven-esque; perhaps it could have used more restraint. His word choices to describe Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 in C minor. Opus 37 were vivid and exemplified: the first movement full of "passion and intensity," the second having a soulful "calmness," and the third being "jovial, unique, and humorous." The historical story he shared was enjoyable, and he was very calm and composed - though unenthusiastic. Sejoon had good pacing throughout the first movement, deftly picking up the tempo over time to propel into the cadenza. In the main body, not all of his runs sparkled with polish and sound quality sometimes suffered in dramatic sections. In the cadenza, however, his playing was precise and colorful.

Yi An let Chopin's melody and harmonies to speak for themselves in Nocturne No. 18 in E major, Opus 62, No. 2. Her character was consistent as she gave a solid and sensitive performance. In the Beethoven duo, Variations on Mozart's Magic Flute, Yi An's fine ear was apparent as she was always careful to give the cello its due. Instrumentalists would certainly appreciate her modesty in this respect, as would Mozart lovers - this spirit in which this was written. Rhythmically, she allowed great ensemble work, most notably in the fifth variation with the cello's fast and complicated part. After playing a complex sample of the concerto to come, Yi An concluded that "Mozart definitely is not simple." Performing Mozart's Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467, Yi An looked up the small, optional cadenzas implemented by a former concert pianist, only she wrote her own, which were pleasant. She used extra pedal in runs which had a softening and subtle shaping effect; this worked because of the clarity in her touch.

Sean, an animated performer, gave Chopin's Nocturne No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Opus 27, No. 1 a consistently brooding drama. He also gave it a loud character, that seemed a bit rambunctious for "night music." He was good, though, at bringing out inner harmonies and melodic lines. His duo performance was his strongest of all. Beethoven's Variations on Mozart's Magic Flute for piano and cello sounded fresh and exciting under his hands. He was very attentive to the cello and to projecting important phrases. His staccatos were not sharp, yet sounded compact. Sean pointed out the appearance and significance of the A-flat, or G-sharp, throughout Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto in C minor, Opus 37. He had a clean sound, though when shifting focus between ideas the consistency of his tone sometimes lost his control. But the trills before the octave section were refreshingly not harsh, as often played. Late in the movement, there was some rushing, and then he took the cadenza daringly fast. He was not afraid to miss some notes in order to accomplish the drama of the music.

Chopin Nocturne No. 5 in F-sharp major, Opus 15, No. 2 was contrite and pleasant under the control of Alexander. He was passionate and focused, although some moments sounded over-pedaled, perhaps a problem coming from a dry practice room to a hall with very active acoustics. He set up the return of theme one so it was like the return of an old friend. Someone's intermittent coughing somehow worked itself smoothly into the calming ritardando at the end. For the Mozart duo, A major K. 305, the ensemble seemed to differ in interpretation. Though together, it seemed Alexander had a more reserved intention than the violinist, who last played the piece dramatically with Sejoon. Alexander showed in his speech that he has a broad knowledge of repertoire and he communicated the revolutionary implications of the piece at hand, Beethoven Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Opus 37. His performance showed that he has a variety of touches and a diverse technique, though the beautiful second theme sounded over-pedaled in the cadenza. His playing was intellectually driven, and his sudden entrance into the cadenza pleasantly surprised me, actually making me jump a little. The mood swings in the cadenza seemed to capture Beethoven's temperament.

Hunter's intense performance added to the agitation of Chopin's Nocturne No. 19 in E minor, Opus 72, No. 1 (posthumous). Some parts sounded pounded out, which very well could have been his intention: the major section, in contrast had a very nice change of color. The last performer of the day, Hunter introduced the next piece, Beethoven's Twelve Variations on Handel's Judas Maccabeus, in good humor as the one "which I'm sure you've all heard too many times today." Some sections sounded bottom-heavy on the large concert grand, which detracted from the intimacy of the duo. However, he was in touch with the emotional burdens and changes in the piece and stayed tight with the cellist rhythmically. Hunter's statements before Mozart's Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467 I think were soaked with irony, and that confused much of the audience, unsure whether or not to laugh. But, next, his musical illustrations of Mozart as an "A.D.D." composer was clearly humorous, and he proceeded to convey why he enjoys Mozart the most. His performance had an exciting, driving feel and a brilliant sound.

Kudos - and not the kind we ate backstage - to the pianists, violinists, and cellists who learned all the accompanying music for this round of the competition. These included Stefanie Jacob, Wilanna Kalkhof, Jeannie Yu, Timothy Klabunde, Jennifer Startt, Scott Tisdel, and Adrien Zitoun.

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