Early this evening I went to San Francisco Performances’ annual Naumburg Competition Winner concert, featuring pianist Soyeon Lee, a petite young woman who can raise mighty music. I very much enjoyed her crystalline and vigorous playing, and even more than that I enjoyed her adventurous and interesting program, made up of a number of brief but intense pieces. Even the longer numbers – Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G Major, which started off the concert, and Schumann’s Carnaval, which made up the second half – are collections of short contrasting pieces.
Far from seeming disjointed, though, there are similarities in mood and intention among these short pieces (as in the fragments in The Wasteland) that give an underlying cohesion to the whole: most of these pieces look both backwards and forwards, uniting tradition and innovation: Bach writes new dances in traditional forms, Shostakovich (the Prelude and Fugue No. 15 in D-flat Major, Opus 87 No 15) imitates Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier; Ligeti writes an etude (but for virtuoso – Etude No. 6, Autumn in Warsaw) and his student Unsuk Chin writes another etude, also for virtuoso (Etude no. 6, Grains); and Ravel (the first half ended with La valse) deconstructs the waltz. And as for Schumann, the December 23 issue of the New York Review of Books has a fascinating article by Charles Rosen about Schumann’s innovative piano music (unfortunately I can't link to it since it's subscribers only but it's worth seeking out if you're interested in the subject).
I was especially glad to see Ligeti and Chin on the program; I haven’t heard much of Chin other than Alice in Wonderland and enjoyed her crisp and daring etude. The program wasn't all crispness, though; Lee can produce softer poetry too, as she proved in her sole encore, a Chopin Nocturne that crept softly over the audience in a twilight dreamy way.