Behind the Scenes: Opening Night: Bright Program Notes + Guest Artist

LexPhil launches the 2017/18 Season with Michael Torke’s dazzling Bright Blue Music and an array of lively works from the orchestral canon! Featuring Avery Fisher Career Grant Winner and pianist, Joyce Yang, making her return to LexPhil in Grieg’s tour-de-force Piano Concerto with regional choirs filling the Singletary Center in Ravel’s lush Daphnis and Chloé: Suite No. 2. Purchase your tickets today!

Opening Night: Bright 
Program Notes
By: Daniel Chetel

Tonight’s opening program of the Lexington Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season paints a vibrant canvas of musical sounds and colors: Ravel’s balletic grace, Ginastera’s angular rhythms, American composer Michael Torke’s kinetic pulsations, and Grieg’s lively Piano Concerto in A minor with esteemed soloist Joyce Yang.

Michael Torke’s (1961-) invigorating style of music can perhaps be best encapsulated by the name of his own label, Ecstatic Records, on which he has released many of his own works. In a world that often debates the “seriousness” of art in order to assign value, Torke’s musical vision seems to transcend that question and reach directly into what excites us. Written when Torke was twenty-five, Bright Blue Music (1985) was commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony and premiered in Carnegie Hall under the baton of David Alan Miller. Torke writes about the piece: “Inspired by [Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig] Wittgenstein’s idea that meaning is not in words themselves, but in the grammar of the words

used, I conceived of a parallel in musical terms: harmonies in themselves do not contain meaning; rather, musical meaning results only from the way harmonies are used. Harmonic language is then, in a sense, inconsequential. If the choice of harmony is arbitrary, why not use the simplest, most direct, and (for me) most pleasurable: I and V chords; tonic and dominant. Once this decision was made and put in the back of my mind, an unexpected freedom of expression followed. With the simplest means, my musical emotions and impulses were free to guide me. Working was exuberant: I would leave my outdoor studio and the trees and bushes seemed to dance, and the sky seemed a bright blue.”

We move next to another work of youth, Edvard Grieg’s (1843-1907) Piano Concerto in A minor (1868) which features outbursts of energy and brooding introspection in equal measure. Grieg was also twenty-five when he wrote this work on a vacation in the Danish countryside. His enjoyment of nature and longing for home can be heard in the pastoral sounds and sighing melodic gestures throughout. The opening movement begins with a bang and flourish from the piano before settling into a more sentimental mood. Punctuated by short fanfares in the brass and explosions of nervous energy in the strings and winds, the somberness of the A minor key permeates the entirety of the movement. After the grand scale of the orchestral sound in the first movement, Grieg creates a much more intimate sound world in his Adagio, beginning with pianissimo strings alone to introduce the relatively simple melodic material. The final movement is announced with a miniature (or perhaps distant) fanfare played very softly by the clarinets and bassoons and then taken over by the rushing energy of the piano, which is ready to burst out after the reserved second movement. The energy of the music surges and recedes, again and again, before finally breaking into a majestic maestoso for both soloist and orchestra that brings the piece to a close.

Born in 1916 in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) became one of the most prominent figures in twentieth-century Latin American classical music. Ginastera’s musical work, as well as pressures from the political situation in Argentina, brought him to the United States, where he worked with American composer Aaron Copland (1910-1990). The ballet Estancia (1941) depicts a day in the life of the Argentine cowboys running a bustling cattle ranch, and the orchestral Four Dances present some of the most vibrant scenes of this colorful story. Los trabajadores agrícolas depicts the spirited workers of the land in a driving and rhythmic dance. The more subdued Danza del trigo provides a more sentimental contrast to the energy of the opening movement with beautiful solos in the winds and violin. Los peones de hacienda returns immediately to the rhythmic intensity of the opening with dancing brass, leaping strings, and the insistent timpani. Finally, the Malambo—a competitive dance in which gauchos showed off their dancing prowess—jumps into action with the spirited piccolos. The Malambo is almost athletic as each instrument group seeks to outdo the others in this celebratory final movement of the suite.

Tonight’s program closes with one of French composer Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) grandest musical canvases, the second suite from his ballet score to Daphnis and Chloé (1912). Known as a master orchestrator, Ravel— following orchestral revolutionaries like Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844- 1908) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918) — expanded the musical palette of the symphony orchestra and set the stage for a modernist upheaval to come. Originally conceived as a ballet score in collaboration with such luminaries as Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) and Michel Fokine (1880-1942), Ravel’s orchestral suites are now staples in the concert repertory and show off the diversity of musical colors available to this early twentiethcentury innovator. The shimmering light of the strings and bubbling, rushing water of the woodwinds is joined by a wordless choir that only adds to the splendor of the musical scenery of these final movements from the original ballet. Ravel’s glistening musical sunrise is a fitting end to an evening of radiant music throughout.

Joyce Yang, pianist

Blessed with “poetic and sensitive pianism” (Washington Post) and a “wondrous sense of color” (San Francisco Classical Voice), pianist Joyce Yang captivates audiences with her virtuosity, lyricism, and interpretive sensitivity. As a Van Cliburn International Piano Competition silver medalist and Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient, Yang showcases her colorful musical personality in solo recitals and collaborations with the world’s top orchestras and chamber musicians.

Yang came to international attention in 2005 when she won the silver medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The youngest contestant at 19 years old, she took home two additional awards: the Steven De Groote Memorial Award for Best Performance of Chamber Music (with the Takàcs Quartet) and the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for Best Performance of a New Work.

Since her spectacular debut, she has blossomed into an “astonishing artist” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung). She has performed as soloist with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, the Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Sydney, and Toronto symphony orchestras, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and the BBC Philharmonic (among many others), working with such distinguished conductors as Edo de Waart, Lorin Maazel, James Conlon, Leonard Slatkin, David Robertson, Bramwell Tovey, Peter Oundjian, and Jaap van Zweden. In recital, Yang has taken the stage at New York’s Lincoln Center and Metropolitan Museum; the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; Chicago’s Symphony Hall; and Zurich’s Tonhalle.

Yang kicks off the 2015/16 season with a tour of eight summer festivals (Aspen, Bridgehampton, Grand Tetons, La Jolla, Ravinia, Seattle, Southeastern Piano Festival, and Bravo! Vail) before commencing a steady stream of debuts, return engagements, and notable chamber music concerts. She reunites with the New York Philharmonic under Tovey for a five-date engagement of Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” ? after an appearance last season that the New York Times called “…a sumptuous, powerful, subtle performance … distinguished by a variety of touch and color” ? and makes her New Jersey Symphony debut with Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 in an evening celebrating the orchestra’s season finale and conductor Jacques Lacombe’s last concert as Music Director. A sought-after interpreter of new music, Yang performs and records the world premiere of Michael Torke’s Piano Concerto, created expressly for her and commissioned by the Albany Symphony. Showcasing her vast repertoire with appearances across North America, she plays with the Colorado Springs, Orlando, and Reading Philharmonics, and the Alabama, Anchorage, Corpus Christi, Greenwich, Milwaukee, Nashville, Pasadena, Princeton, Santa Fe, Utah, and Vancouver symphonies, and returns to the Melbourne Symphony to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. In 2016 Avie Records will release a recording with Yang and her frequent duo partner, violinist Augustin Hadelich, featuring repertoire by Schumann, Kurtág, Franck, and Previn.

Yang further demonstrates her diverse range this season with a string of laudable collaborations. She opens the Chamber Music International 30th anniversary season with violinist Sheryl Staples and cellist Carter Brey in Dallas; joins the Alexander String Quartet at San Francisco Performances; appears with the Modigliani Quartet at the Phoenix Chamber Music Society; and reunites with Hadelich and guitarist Pablo Villegas at the La Jolla Music Society and Philharmonic Society of Orange County for a reprise of the trio’s widely acclaimed “Tango, Song, and Dance,” in which “Yang shone” (Washington Post) at its Kennedy Center premiere.  She plays an innovative program of Albéniz, Debussy, Ginastera, and Rachmaninoff in a series of recitals in New York, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

Highlights of recent seasons include Yang’s Royal Flemish Philharmonic and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin debuts, UK debut in the Cambridge International Piano Series, Montreal debut with I Musici de Montréal with Jean-Marie Zeitouni, and Pittsburgh Symphony debut playing Schumann’s Concerto under music director Manfred Honeck. She concluded a five-year Rachmaninoff cycle with de Waart and the Milwaukee Symphony, to which she brought “an enormous palette of colors, and tremendous emotional depth” (Milwaukee Sentinel Journal); joined the Takács Quartet for Dvorak in Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series; and impressed the New York Times with her “vivid and beautiful playing” of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet with members of the Emerson String Quartet at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. A residency with Musica Viva Australia at the Huntington Estate Music Festival was marked by chamber music performances and solo recitals.

In spring 2014, Yang “demonstrated impressive gifts” (New York Times) with a trio of album releases: her second solo disc for Avie Records, Wild Dreams, on which she plays Schumann, Bartók, Hindemith, Rachmaninoff, and arrangements by Earl Wild; a pairing of the Brahms and Schumann Piano Quintets with the Alexander Quartet; and a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Denmark’s Odense Symphony Orchestra that International Record Review called “hugely enjoyable, beautifully shaped … a performance that marks her out as an enormous talent.” Of her 2011 debut album for Avie Records, Collage, featuring works by Scarlatti, Liebermann, Debussy, Currier, and Schumann, Gramophone praised her “imaginative programming” and “beautifully atmospheric playing.”

Yang made her celebrated New York Philharmonic debut with Maazel at Avery Fisher Hall in November 2006 and performed on the orchestra’s tour of Asia, making a triumphant return to her hometown of Seoul, South Korea. Subsequent appearances with the Philharmonic included the opening night of the Leonard Bernstein Festival in September 2008, at the special request of Maazel in his final season as music director. The New York Times pronounced her performance in Bernstein’s The Age of Anxiety a “knockout.”

Born in 1986 in Seoul, South Korea, Yang received her first piano lesson at the age of four. She quickly took to the instrument, which she received as a birthday present, and over the next few years won several national piano competitions in her native country. By the age of ten, she had entered the School of Music at the Korea National University of Arts, and went on to make a number of concerto and recital appearances in Seoul and Daejeon. In 1997, Yang moved to the United States to begin studies at the pre-college division of the Juilliard School with Dr. Yoheved Kaplinsky. During her first year at Juilliard, Yang won the pre-college division Concerto Competition, resulting in a performance of Haydn’s Keyboard Concerto in D with the Juilliard Pre-College Chamber Orchestra. After winning the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Greenfield Student Competition, she performed Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with that orchestra at just twelve years old. She graduated from Juilliard with special honor as the recipient of the school’s 2010 Arthur Rubinstein Prize, and in 2011 she won its 30th Annual William A. Petschek Piano Recital Award.

Yang appears in the film In the Heart of Music, a documentary about the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. A Steinway artist, she currently lives in New York City. Learn more at