The Buffalo Chamber Music Society’s “Gift to the Community” concert series is an example of truth in advertising and a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. This set of concerts is an exclusive showcase for young performers filled with promise, ambition and talent.
Ji-Yong, a 22-year-old pianist, is definitely one of those people, but the arc of his artistic career is not as smooth and unbroken as his publicity biography would lead one to believe. Yes, he was, at 10 years old, the youngest pianist to win the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition, and he has played with orchestras in Asia, Europe and North America, in addition to winning a slew of prestigious awards.
It would seem that there are no gaps in a line that could lead to success, but … again … there’s that “but.”
Ji-Yong had just finished playing Ferruccio Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s “Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue” in C major (BWV 564) – a performance that meshed a powerful, dramatic and speedy take on the toccata, a beautiful adagio and a consistently impressive fugue – when he stepped away from the piano, acknowledged the applause and began speaking to the audience in Kleinhans Music Hall.
He talked about how the piano students from the Buffalo Suzuki Strings (who performed in a brief recital before he took the stage) were, like all talented young musicians, the future of classical music. Ji-Yong then followed that up by acknowledging that there were times in his career when playing the piano took second place to other events, times when he was discouraged enough with the whole concept of touring and entering competitions that he withdrew from playing for months at a time while he tried to sort out just where his life was going and what he really wanted to do.
The whole process of talking to the audience appeared as if he were drawing the curtain of his life open just far enough to reveal some of the changes and struggles to which young virtuosos can be subjected.
Then Ji-Yong went back to the piano and played Schubert’s “Impromptu” in B-flat major (op. 142, No. 3) as if he had just undergone a musical catharsis, following the cues in the score that led him through an intriguing blend of heartfelt emotion and playfulness. Chopin’s “Ballade” No. 3 in A-flat major (op. 4) followed, and while it was handled with considerable aplomb, the playing was pleasant rather than revelatory. The magic apparent in the Schubert piece was lessened.
This last named piece was, without a doubt, the single most impressive work on the program from a technical standpoint. The ominous opening gradually dissolved into a work of forbidding beauty.
The encore, Ji-Yong’s take on Brahms’ “Intermezzo” in A-major (op. 118, No. 2), was delicate and sans pretentiousness, a perfect ending to an interesting and worthwhile experience.