SPRING PIANO CONCERT: Ruth Asawa School of the Arts Piano Department (SECOND HALF)

The second half opened with Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, performed by freshman Isabelle Fromme. For this Rachmaninoff, the technically most challenging thing to do successfully is to maintain an even and celestial feel to the repetitive and intense pattern, predominantly played by the right hand and occasionally by the left. Isabelle executed this wonderfully with a soaring and light touch in whichever hand was playing the sixteenth-note pattern, and a strong and emotion-filled melody line always emphasized. Although a short piece, it's performance was definitely a great opening to the second half of the concert and a great way to get the audience back into the groove.

Ritmo (Andalusian Dances) by Manuel Infante was performed by Isabelle Fromme and junior Steve Fang. This very energetic and invigorating piece was performed very well by Isabelle and Steve who, with their combined efforts, maintained a high level of zeal throughout the whole performance.

The next selection on the program was Frederic Chopin's Ballade #1, Op. 23 performed by Steve Fang. Steve's performance of this killer piece really got the audience holding their breath until the very end of his performance. We've all heard this piece before due to its severe popularity. But every time a different performer plays this piece, they add something new to it. Steve brought to life the animated runs that are so prominent in Chopin's Romantic style of composition. Steve emphasized the segway periods in the piece leading from one section to another. Steve brought out the beautiful melody with intonation and feeling. Steve says that he "developed a love/hate relationship with this piece..." and that "[a] pianists technique can be trained, but musicality will always remain subjective. It saddens me that so many who call this a masterpiece get so caught up in comparing recordings and don't even enjoy the music anymore".

Next on the program was Allegro (Sonata Hob. 50) by Joseph Haydn, performed by junior Janet Lin. The recurring pattern of theme and response is prevalent in this Haydn, and Janet really emphasized this aspect of the piece. The interplay between the two hands portrayed the piece's grace and elegance.

Suite for Two Pianos, Op. 6 (Prelude and Danse Fantastique) by Dmitri Shostakovich was performed next by Janet Lin and sophomore Mikhael Vtorushin. An overbearing chord progression ranging across a large portion of the keyboard is the prevailing thematic pattern of this piano duet. As Janet began the main theme on her piano, Mikhael brought out the countermelody on his piano. The intensity of the first section of the prelude was then balanced out by the serene middle section. Although having a polar opposite mood from the first section, the main theme is still echoed in the middle section. The segway period leading back into the original theme is extended over a long period of time, but the tension is then broken abruptly by the second piano’s fortissimo return to the original theme from the beginning. This switch was performed excellently by Janet and Mikhael, with a dramatized switch in dynamics and a heightened sense of emotions. The Danse Fantastique provided a mood swing with typical Shostakovich vigorous rhythmic patterns. Janet and Mikhael successfully kept the audience infatuated with the passion and aggravation of their performance.

Next was Etude Op. 8 No.11 by Alexander Scriabin performed by Mikhael Vtorushin. Scriabin’s 11th Etude from his 12 √ątudes has a very tumultuously soothing quality. Mikhael’s performance had consistent micro-phrasing that is essential for a successful performance of this piece, as well as the acute rhythm at the descending semitones pattern.

Suggestion Diabolique (Temptation) by Sergei Prokofiev was performed next, also by Mikhael. Residing at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Scriabin Etude, Prokofiev’s Diabolic Suggestion shook the lull from the Etude out of the audience. The piece has quite the temper, with its somewhat jeering mood and urgency. Mikhael portrayed the diabolical character of the piece by accentuating the staccato and tension-building sixteenth-note passages. Mikhael used the two glissandi at the very end of the piece to foreshadow the upcoming end, and then re-emphasized the very last depiction of the main theme at the very end with a subito accent.

Fantasie Impromptu Op.66 by Frederic Chopin was performed next by senior Jessica Kur. This Chopin is one of my favorite pieces and one I greatly enjoy hearing at concerts. Jessica’s performance gave the audience a chance to return to a calm and relaxed state after the previous Prokofiev, and Jessica manifested a new level of energy and suspense. The Fantasie is very melodious and upbeat, as well as somewhat nostalgic. In addition to the wave-like figure of the music’s movement, the music has swells and falls that give it a very animated quality. Jessica switched into the second, more sweet sounding section very elegantly. Her phrasing in the melody and balance in the bass register left the audience in awe as the musical story of the piece developed even further. When the original theme came back at the very end for the conclusion of the piece, Jessica added more extreme dynamics, intensifying her emotions. Jessica performed the return to the theme in the left hand at the end very well, giving it an independent mood even though the melody itself was familiar to the listener.

Up next was senior Shabnam Jafari, performing her original composition The Final Act and Waltz(Cinderella Ballet Op. 102) by Sergei Prokofiev. Shabnam’s original composition was very interesting to listen to because of its newness. It displayed Shabnam’s musical achievements from the entire year and her personal achievements as well. Shabnam wrote in her concert reflection that “The Final Act was just a dim melody in the back of my mind, but I started to develop it; I wanted it to have a memorable sound, a melody that tells you a story and then leaves you to unwind the mysteries of it; a melody that projects emotions and paints a picture in the mind”. The Prokofiev was very well played by Shabnam, as she added her own individuality to the performance. Shabnam wrote that “[t]he challenges of mastering this piece were galore…but none of them kept me from falling in love with this piece and working hard to bring it to life”.

The very last piece on the program was Waltz (Suite no.2, Op. 17) by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and it was performed by Shabnam Jafari and Jessica Kur. Shabnam and Jessica manifested very skilled musicianship in the performance of this highly challenging piece. Shabnam wrote that “[a]s challenging as it was, studying this piece was very enjoyable. Understanding the joyful character of the piece, feeling it's driving rhythm, and moving along with its rises and falls were all pieces of a puzzle that needed to be patiently put together in order to create a beautiful image of spring”.

Click HERE for the article on the first half of the piano concert.

Shoutout to the lovely ladies who make up the entire piano senior class: Shabnam Jafari and Jessica Kur. Round of applause to the wonderful SOTA TECH department and to director Ava Soifer.

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