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SINFONIETTA REVIEW: Joyce Yang gives electrifying piano performance

August 3, 2017
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID-The ending notwithstanding, it was still a concert worth going to see.

The Lake Placid Sinfonietta, under the direction of Ron Spigelman, on Sunday, July 30 gave its most schizophrenic concert in recent memory at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

The orchestra kicked off the program with the lively and very familiar "Hungarian Dances" of Johannes Brahms. Then guest pianist Joyce Yang gave what may have been the most electrifying performance of anyone in the orchestra's 100-year history with her playing of Liszt's "Rhapsodie Espagnole" and Chopin's "Grand Polonaise Brilliante and Andante Spianato."

Franz Liszt, considered by historians to be the first "rock star" of the piano, wrote some of the most demanding and exciting pieces ever. Ms. Yang launched into his "Rhapsodie" with amazing reckless abandon like a daredevil stunt pilot treating the piece like a new supersonic jet, taking it to new heights never believed possible; and all the while never losing control of it as she and director Spigelman kept close watch on each other so that she and the orchestra performed every nuance, entrance and cutoff together with crisp precision.

The Chopin that followed had an andante section that allowed for the supersonic performance to relax and fly straight and level for awhile and let the audience catch its breath. It took nothing away from the overall performance because by then Ms. Yang virtually owned the place. Along with the flashy virtuosity she brings a level of passion and sheer joy to the stage rarely seen anywhere.

As the audience sprung to its feet and cheered wildly, she responded by holding her hands high and clapping toward the orchestra as if to say, "It's not all about me, guys."

When Betsy Baxter presented her with a bouquet of roses after the Chopin, she graciously removed one and presented it to Spigelman, after which she gave a most welcome encore rarely seen on the Lake Placid stage. At this moment the audience got to experience a more personal side to her grace and charm as she explained that for "the cherry on top" she would perform Gershwin's "The Man I Love."

With the concert theme being "Meeting of the Minds," Spigelman explained how Liszt and Chopin were colleagues and "frenemies" who often performed together and pushed each other in a healthy fashion.

As Spigelman took the stage for the second half he addressed the issue that had to have been on everyone's mind: how do you follow Ms. Yang's act? With a look of concern rather than his usual ebullience he said, "It's like trying to follow a moon landing."

He then went on to explain the historical connection between Mahler and Sibelius who didn't get off on a very good foot together. The history behind the Mahler piece they were about to perform, a symphonic movement titled "Blumine," was actually more interesting.

The sentimental serenade had originally been part of Mahler's first symphony until a publisher convinced him to cut it in order to keep the overall work down to four movements. It then disappeared for about 80 years until it was first performed in 1968.

The concert concluded with incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck's tragic play "Pelleas and Melissande" by Sibelius. For this Spigelman did his best to keep the audience involved as he explained what was happening in the play during each movement of the piece. He even interrupted the piece two or three times to explain even more because even though the movements were short, there were still eight of them.

Although Spigelman demonstrates a gift for communicating with an audience in ways that are both humorous and informative, even he couldn't save this piece with his natural gift of gab. It is, after all, incidental music that wasn't written with the intent of being a concert piece. It begs the question, "Why even perform it in a concert?" There was next to nothing interesting or exciting about it.

And to install this turkey after a Joyce Yang performance? What were they thinking?

But does it really matter? The nearly packed hall got to see Joyce Yang perform who was worth the price of admission on her own as her performance will be most deeply embedded in everyone's memory.

So maybe it wasn't such a bad move to insert the Sibelius piece after all because after hearing Joyce Yang hardly anybody will remember it anyway.



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