NEW YORK—In the acoustically hospitable Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village, “Julie Jordan Presents” spotlighted four talented pianists in a varied program of piano concertos on June 5, in its New York Concerti Sinfonietta “Shining Stars Series.”
At the June 5 concert, notable performances were given by the First Prize winner of the “Julie Jordan Presents” 2012 International Piano Concerto Competition, as well as the First Prize and Second Prize winners of the “Shining Stars” Debut Award. The artistic director of the competition, Dr. Julie Jordan, is an accomplished pianist in her own right and is completing her 26th year as a faculty member of The Juilliard School Evening Division.
Mr. Wong’s Ravel was, in a word, spectacular.
As usual, the soloists were accompanied by Julie Jordan’s New York Concerti Sinfonietta, a top-notch 41-member professional orchestra, directed by principal conductor Paul Hostetter. Maestro Hostetter, who is on the faculty of Columbus State University in Georgia, conducts the Sequitur Ensemble, and has led the New Jersey Symphony and the American Composers Orchestra.
Yurika Mihara, First Prize winner of the “Shining Stars” Debut Award, began the concert with the first movement of the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21. Ms. Mihara, who has won a number of competitions in Japan, is currently studying with the distinguished pianist Jerome Rose toward a master’s degree at the Mannes College of Music.
Despite Ms. Mihara’s petite appearance, there was nothing small-scaled about her playing. Starting with her opening entrance, Ms. Mihara established an authoritative presence, displaying a solid technique and a powerful tone. Her fluent interpretation had an agreeable ebb and flow, with an expressive, almost improvisatory feeling.
In the movement’s lyrical episodes, Ms. Mihara took her time. Her playing was rhapsodic and poetic, with idiomatic rubato. Incorporating subtle dynamic nuances, she effortlessly spun off decorative keyboard figurations in the true bel canto spirit. Ms. Mihara worked up considerable excitement in the climaxes, getting deep into the keys, and finishing with a brilliant, rapid chain of figurations.
Maestro Hostetter conducted a vigorous, more assertive accompaniment than is customary in this concerto. Chopin’s orchestration is often dismissed as perfunctory, but on this occasion the orchestra was a full partner for the soloist, counterbalancing her and lending greater weight to the work in climactic passages. In the quieter interludes, Mr. Hostetter was a sensitive collaborator, perfectly meshing with the soloist’s individualistic phrasing and tempo variations.
Next was Stanley Sisskin, who played the challenging first movement of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83. Although Mr. Sisskin holds three degrees in music and accompanying, his career interests have taken him elsewhere; he is currently what is sometimes euphemistically referred to as an “adult pianist.” In the last eight years, however, he has won medals in two competitions for amateur pianists; he performed with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in 2010-11.
2012-13 Competition Series
The series will include winners of the international “Open Concerto” competition (all instruments), international Rachmaninoff Concerto competition, and Composition competition. Winners will perform with the New York Concerti Sinfonietta at Steinway Hall on Sept. 8, 2012 and at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 13, 2012 and Feb. 25, 2013. The competitions as well as performances in the “Shining Stars Series” are open to musicians of all ages in various categories, including solo, chamber music, vocal, and concerto repertoire. Pianists and soloists interested in participating in the concerto concert on Sept. 8 or future dates may still apply.
Mr. Sisskin’s Brahms was a most impressive performance of a knuckle-breaking concerto. His account of the Brahms was commendably courageous, confident, and sonorous, with well-marked rhythm and buoyantly sprung, swaggering syncopations.
In the softer passages, Mr. Sisskin exhibited nicely contoured and graded dynamics. At the end of the development section, the hushed transition back to the recapitulation was beautifully gauged by soloist and conductor, with the luminous restatement of the movement’s opening horn call being a particular highlight.
Some untidiness, and a tendency to rush a few entrances, could be disregarded in the context of an exciting, risk-taking performance in which Mr. Sisskin valiantly confronted the reefs and shoals that Brahms has placed as traps for the unwary soloist. This was virile, masculine playing; the balding Mr. Sisskin gave us Brahms with hair on his chest (or at the least, an ample beard on his chin).
After intermission, Adam Haas, Second Prize winner of the “Shining Stars” Debut Award, performed the opening movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467. (The concerto’s poignant slow movement was popularized by the 1967 Swedish film “Elvira Madigan.”) Mr. Haas holds a D.M.A. degree in piano performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was a graduate teaching assistant for three years. He has studied with Andrew Cooperstock at Boulder.
Mr. Haas gave the first movement a fleet, classically proportioned reading. His chaste approach treated the work as if it was composed by Haydn or Scarlatti, rather than accentuating Mozart’s proto-Romantic, Beethovenian tendencies. This was a perfectly valid interpretative approach, and one that was worth hearing for a change. A little more profile and personality would have been be welcome, as well as more light and shade, but it was quite assured, mainstream playing of considerable accomplishment.
Mr. Haas played the Robert Casadesus cadenza with flair, confidently showing off his technical attainments. Interestingly, in the movement’s concluding orchestral coda, where the piano normally is silent, Mr. Haas improvised a solo part in the manner of Golden Age pianists of yore, to lend a feeling of greater finality.
The evening’s concert closed with an exhilarating performance of the entire Ravel Piano Concerto in G Majorgiven by Raymond Wong, First Prize winner of the 2012 International Piano Competition. Mr. Wong is a teaching assistant at the Manhattan School of Music, where he is pursuing a doctoral degree. Mr. Wong has studied with Jeffrey Cohen and Andre-Michel Schub; this fall, he will be studying at The Juilliard School.
Mr. Wong’s Ravel was, in a word, spectacular. From his commanding opening to his riotously jaunty ending, Mr. Wong dominated the concerto with forceful sonority and technique to burn. He precisely delineated Ravel’s jazzy syncopated figurations, which were no doubt inspired by Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, composed just a few years earlier. One marveled at Mr. Wong’s shimmering chains of trills and toccata-like sequential passages that were pulverizing in their power. Nor did he neglect the sense of fun and playfulness that is so important in this work.
Maestro Hostetter collaborated by fully bringing out a kaleidoscope of orchestral colors, from sassy—even ribald—trombone interjections to a beautiful, quiet impressionistic interlude with harp arpeggios.
The bluesy second movement was an enchanting nocturne beginning with solo piano, subsequently intertwined with an outstandingly played, highly inflected, languid English horn solo in counterpoint with the pianist. In the last movement, a jubilant perpetual motion with raucous asides from winds and brass, Mr. Wong’s playing was dazzling; there seemed to be no limits to his virtuosity. He tossed off the most treacherous and difficult passages nonchalantly, as if it was child’s play. Playful it was, bringing a grin to all who heard it. Afterward, a full house roared its approval.
The next concerts in the “Julie Jordan Presents” Shining Stars Series will be given at Steinway Hall on Sept. 8 and at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on Nov. 13, with the New York Concerti Sinfonietta conducted by Paul Hostetter.
Michael Sherwin has held Rockefeller and Fromm Foundation Fellowships in music criticism.
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