Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
By Rorianne Schrade, New York Concert Review
Posted: March 10, 2016
NYCAA (New York Concert Artists and Associates), under the direction of Klara Min, has had a record of discovering some highly interesting musicians to present in debut, and Hungarian pianist Gábor Farkas is no exception, though he may have too many credentials already to be considered a “new discovery.” Born in 1981, and having earned an impressive list of appearances and accolades, as well as a doctorate from the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Mr. Farkas is already enjoying an active career – but it may be that the best is yet to come.
His program included Scarlatti (two Sonatas – E Major, K. 531, and A Major, K. 533), Schubert (Impromptu in G-flat Major, D. 899, No. 3), and Schumann (the Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13). After intermission came an all-Liszt group. The bill of fare may not sound remarkable, but the interpretations were distinctive.
From the opening Scarlatti Sonatas, the mark of the pianist’s individuality was apparent in the treatment of texture. Seemingly free from performance practice constraints, some sections were handled with generous harmonic blending (with pedal) juxtaposed with a much drier sound elsewhere. Some say that any Scarlatti played on a modern piano is a transcription of sorts, so rules can be cast aside. Most pianists, though, strive for some consistency of texture, if not actually approximating the sounds of the harpsichord and clavichord. Mr. Farkas seemed unconcerned with any such conventions, bringing out the piano’s wide range of timbres and the compositional uniqueness of each disparate phrase as it appeared to suit him.
Throughout the first half of the program, one couldn’t quite decide whether to embrace this individuality, a rarity in a sea of generic pianists, or to challenge the rather freewheeling approach to architecture, tempo, and other musical considerations. Mr. Farkas’ phrasing was intriguing, particularly in some subito piano surprises and expressive changings of course. His interpretations overall were also always thought-provoking, even when the reasoning behind some of his decisions eluded one. On the other hand, there were some liberties that jolted, some unsettling tempo fluctuations, and some perplexing pedaling at times.
Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat was compelling, with the appealing vocal qualities one wants in Schubert. Mr. Farkas was not at all afraid to stretch a phrase in poignant ways. With such a well-known piece, it was refreshing to hear it as if for the first time. Now and then the stretching became a tad fussy, but that was hardly a steep price to pay for the overall profusion of ideas and beautiful highlights. There were many inspired moments.
Where the alternate stretching and pushing became detrimental to the music for this listener was in the Schumann Symphonic Etudes, particularly the finale, where a unified march-tempo is the underpinning, despite the sequential episodes that break the fanfare. There is plenty of excitement without pushing the speed each time the march re-ascends – and in fact, rushing undercuts the excitement that mounts to the work’s grand finish. There are many such moments in this well wrought work, where the composer has all the drama “baked in the cake” – needing little help from the performer beyond patience, stamina, and an identification with the inherent drama and lyricism.
Mr. Farkas’ more mercurial approach to Schumann works ideally with that composer’s sets of smaller character pieces such as the Davidsbündlertänze or the Fantasiestücke, which I would be interested to hear him play. He is simply overflowing with his personal brand of interpretive energy – a quality some may find overwhelming or intrusive to the score, but others will find the best reason to go and hear him play.
Works of Franz Liszt filled the second half, two of which were transcriptions based on works by other composers, first the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust and then the Danse Macabre of Saint-Saëns, quite a bravura pairing. Mr. Farkas projected all the requisite drama and virtuosity, showing ample strength and pianism through both. Liszt’s own Ave Maria, S. 182, sensitively handled, gave a breather of sorts before (Liszt’s) Totentanz, the virtuosic closer.
Totentanz, or (“Dance of Death”) a tour de force of octaves and pyrotechnics, is a work one doesn’t see performed every day (thankfully, in this reviewer’s opinion), but it was given a rousing reading. Mr. Farkas’ sense of diabolic drama and color was in full play, alternating wicked impish staccato figures with menacing tritones, blistering octaves, and still more octaves (have I mentioned that there are octaves?). Even as a staunch defender of Liszt against the usual charges of excessive flash, I couldn’t help thinking afterward that there must be works worthier of a fine pianistic talent in his prime, as Mr. Farkas is.
The audience gave a very noisy standing ovation and was rewarded with a mellow rendition of the Schumann-Liszt Widmung as the encore.
Pianist Klara Min learned one of her biggest life lessons to date in her eight years as the artistic director of the New York Concert Artists & Associates (NYCA): You need to know why you do what you do.
“If you don’t believe in it, no one else will believe in it with you,” she told the Korea JoongAng Daily in a recent interview.
The 39-year-old founded the NYCA, a society for young musicians, in 2008 with the belief that the artists themselves should be able to make the final creative decisions.
NYCA receives most of its funding from individual patrons, and the artists discuss their concerts and projects together in regular meetings.
“You need good people around you,” Min said.
“People always come first, and then the work.”
Over the years, NYCA has had a number of “good people” as patrons, and later this month the NYCA will host an event to draw more attention around its cause.
On April 27, NYCA is set to hold its first official fund-raising gala, a concert entitled “New Horizon” at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City. Soloists at the concert include pianist Alberto Nose and cellist Joshua Roman.
The evening will be hosted by Elliott Forrest, broadcaster and producer at WQXR, an American classical radio station.
Ahead of the organization’s big day, the Korea JoongAng Daily talked with the Seoul-born musician via e-mail to learn more about the NYCA, her thoughts on music and Korea.
Min was born in Korea and raised here until she was 10. She lived in Japan for several years before moving to New York at 17.
“I am Korean no matter what, wherever I live,” she said.
Q. It’s interesting how NYCA gets most of its funding from individual patrons.
A. Yes, unlike South Korea or Europe, most medium-size music organizations in New York have support from individuals. In Europe, the governments mainly help such organizations. What makes New York different from many other countries or cities is that there are many individual donors and foundations that are built and named after those individuals. [One of our] major sponsors for many years has been a Jewish donor from the America -Israel Cultural Foundation, and with this upcoming gala, we are receiving more interest from potential donors.
What are your thoughts on the status of Korean classical musicians in the international arena?
The level of Korean classical musicians is exceptional. I really believe that Koreans are deeply artistic people. Perhaps it is our sad history that has made us so expressive and emotional. What is lacking among the musicians who study abroad is that openness to other cultures. I have seen many exceptional pianists who come to study abroad, then they go back without really acquiring another culture. As an artist, it is essential to be able to adopt and learn [about] different cultures in order to understand the background of music.
Do you think being Korean-American affected who you are as a pianist? If so, how?
Yes. I was born in Seoul, spent my childhood in Japan, then spent more than half my life in New York, and also studied in Germany. For me, the most exciting part of life [has been] to learn about different cultures, languages, food, music, people, and it is absolutely essential for musicians to see the world to have broader perspectives. And it definitely affects your playing and the way you are as a musician.
Can you elaborate more on what “being Korean” means to someone like you who has lived and worked abroad for so long?
People I meet on an everyday basis are non-Koreans, and they will always see me as Korean anyway. I think that true patriotism starts with how you live everyday life, how I do my best. But learning how to blend with other nations and cultures makes us grow more, as it enables us to realize many things from outside perspectives. One note (in music) has no meaning, but when it comes together with other notes, it has its own function, whether it is harmony or dissonance. Blending only makes our identity stronger.
What are your goals for this year and what else do you hope to do with NYCA?
My personal goal as a pianist is to release a recording with the Steinway & Sons label in the fall with works by Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin. As for NYCA, it has been growing internationally and getting attention from many musicians. I hope that it continues to be a stepping stone for musicians and a platform for many pianists.
von Isabel Herzfeld
March 19, 2015
Ton voller Wärme und Fülle: Die Koreanerin Junghee Ryu eröffnet die neue Reihe „Berlin Debuts“ im Kammermusiksaal.
Junge Musiker kennenzulernen ist immer spannend – wie erfüllt der Nachwuchs die Interpretationsaufgaben angesichts einer übermächtigen Tradition? Können neue, eigenständige Sichtweisen überhaupt noch gelingen? Die Schwemme der Debüts zeigt aber auch, wie heiß umkämpft der Klassik-Markt mittlerweile ist, überfüllt von hochbegabten Newcomern. Zur gegenseitigen Unterstützung schlossen sich die „New York Concert Artists“ zu einer Art „Davidsbund“ nach Robert Schumanns Vorbild zusammen, mit den Zielen der „Selbstbestimmtheit in der Kunst“ und der „Förderung junger Künstler“. Drei junge Pianistinnen erhalten von ihnen die Chance eines „Berlin Debuts“ im Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie.
Den Anfang macht die Koreanerin Junghee Ryu, in Seoul ausgebildet und mit einem Doktortitel der Manhattan School of Music versehen. Mit Mozart weiß sie zu überraschen. Die späte F-Dur-Sonate (KV 533/494) erhält einen ganz eigenen Ton voller Wärme und Fülle, dabei weder unangebracht „romantisch“ noch rokokohaft verzärtelnd. Die ausgefuchste, manchmal entlegene Wege gehende Polyphonie des Werkes kann sich so wunderbar plastisch entfalten. Das Pedal setzt Ryu nur dort ein, wo es zur klangfarblichen Charakterisierung etwa eines Seitenthemas nötig ist, ohne deswegen – dank differenzierter Anschlagskünste – Trockenheit zu erzeugen. Im Andante leistet sie sich sogar ein kräftiges Rubato vor dem „fortepiano“ zu nehmenden Vorhalt, betont auch sonst durch kontrastreiche Dynamik und Phrasierung Mozarts Kühnheiten, die manchmal auf Schubert und darüber hinaus weisen. In überraschenden Brüchen und Schroffheiten, die sonst oft in klassischer Glätte untergehen, zeigt sich hier Amadeus der Hochsensible, der emotional Sprunghafte und Launische.
Diese Qualität kann die junge Pianistin an diesem Abend nicht mehr erreichen. Schumanns Fantasie op. 17 überfordert sie vielleicht mehr nervlich als technisch – jedenfalls gelingt weder ein klarer und fesselnd gesteigerter „Legendenton“ noch der „Paganini“-Wahnsinn der Sprünge im Mittelteil. Alberto Ginasteras 1. Sonate liegt ihr da schon besser in den Fingern – ihre an Bartók orientierte, furchtlos angepackte Motorik wird mit Bravorufen belohnt.
Ton voller Wärme und Fülle: Die Koreanerin Junghee Ryu eröffnet die neue Reihe „Berlin Debuts“ im Kammermusiksaal.
Tone full of warmth and fullness: The Korean Junghee Ryu opens the new series "Berlin Debuts" in the Chamber Music Hall.
Mit Mozart weiß sie zu überraschen. Die späte F-Dur-Sonate (KV 533/494) erhält einen ganz eigenen Ton voller Wärme und Fülle, dabei weder unangebracht „romantisch“ noch rokokohaft verzärtelnd.
With Mozart, she knows how to surprise. The late F major Sonata (KV 533/494) has a unique tone, full of warmth and abundance, neither rococo nor inappropriately "romantic“.
Im Andante leistet sie sich sogar ein kräftiges Rubato vor dem „fortepiano“ zu nehmenden Vorhalt, betont auch sonst durch kontrastreiche Dynamik und Phrasierung Mozarts Kühnheiten, die manchmal auf Schubert und darüber hinaus weisen.
In the Andante she even allows a strong rubato before the "fortepiano", emphasized by contrasting dynamics, phrasing and Mozart's own boldness, which sometimes refers to Schubert and others.
In überraschenden Brüchen und Schroffheiten, die sonst oft in klassischer Glätte untergehen, zeigt sich hier Amadeus der Hochsensible, der emotional Sprunghafte und Launische.
In surprising breaks and asperities, that often can get lost in classical smoothness, Amadeus is shown as being highly sensitive, emotional, erratic and whimsical.