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Carnegie Hall: Evgeny Kissin and Yuja Wang

January 14, 2014

Last May, I attended two exceptional piano recitals at Carnegie Hall. The first, held May 3, was given by the legendary Evgeny Kissin. He is arguably the most famous living piano child prodigy, having made his international debut at the age of twelve with his performances of the Chopin piano concertos. His name is certainly household among classical music afficionados, and when I learned that he was performing at Carnegie Hall, I made sure to set my alarm to the morning of August 27, 2012 so that I would be able to buy tickets the moment they were on sale and gloat afterwards about my fortuitous purchase.

Even if one were deaf, it was clear from the setup of the concert that Kissin’s performance was an atypical ordeal. Extra rows of chairs were set up on stage around the piano facing the audience, providing elite ticket holders with an up close-up and personal experience with Kissin’s pianism. I have to say, I’ve never seen such a special setup in any kind of musical performance, either in real life or on YouTube.

To my surprise, the piece that impressed me most in Kissin’s performance was the first: the Haydn Sonata in E flat major Hob XVI:49. There was something very wholesome about Kissin’s playing of the piece. His ability to weave together all the subtleties of the sonata created a sort of sublime ecstasy, one far more enchanting than dazzling displays of technical flare. Of course, Kissin made sure to showcase his virtuosity when he played Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 10 as one of his encore pieces. Although thunderous and electrifying, I’ve always preferred Claudio Arrau’s interpretation to Kissin’s. It may just be that I head Arrau’s first and grew comfortable with it, but if I had to come up with a reason, I think it’s that Arrau’s interpretation is more haunting, while Kissin’s is more diabolic and agitated. I also prefer Cziffra’s interpretation to Kissin, whose playing I find more dreamlike (as can be seen in Cziffra’s facial expressions).

Two weeks later, I attended Yuja Wang’s piano recital, which was especially a treat, since her program, in contrast to Kissin’s, consisted of works much closer to my heart: Rachmainoff, Scriabin, and Lowell Liebermann. Wang is a rising star still in her twenties and yet her bewildering virtuosity has already sky rocketed her into comparisons with the greatests pianists of previous generations, including Vladimiar Horowitz. On a more superficial level, she has also turned heads with her unconventional attire, preferring more colorful and revealing clothing that displays her toned, athletic body. Consequently, there are numerous articles reviewing Yuja Wang that address not just her music but also how she dresses. As it turns out, she actually changed her attire during the intermission of my concert, going from a form-fitting black attire to a bright, orange, low-cut dress. As the video below shows, I was sitting sufficiently far back that her choice of clothing (or lack thereof) would have had little bearing on my concert experience.

Honestly, I was more impressed by Wang’s playing than Kissin’s. Her technique was absolutely breathtaking; that she chose to play Prokofiev’s Toccata and Horowitz’s showpiece Carmen Variations as encores already communicates this on paper.  But also her musicality was in no way compromised by her technique, an unfortunate plight among some famous musicians. Wang definitely has a very bright future ahead of her.


From → Excursions

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