A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

June 5: Day five of the semifinal round, part two, of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Tony Yike Yang, Yekwon Sunwoo, Han Chen and Rachel Cheung

Tony Yike Yang

Tony Yike Yang, the 18 year old from Canada, performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, with cadenzas by Beethoven and Mitsuko Uchida. Yang played his heart out, but in several places he and the orchestra were not in sync. Yang rushed in places and was just slightly ahead of the orchestra. Now, it takes two to tango, and both the soloist and the conductor should be watching each other. But on this occasion, it’s easier for the soloist to watch the conductor because of the placement of the piano with respect to the conductor’s podium. Also, in most cases, the soloist and orchestra get more of a chance to rehearse and to discuss differing tempos, etc. That obviously isn’t the case here. Nevertheless, the soloist needs to listen to the orchestra, and we didn’t notice this problem with any of the other competitors. Yang can be forgiven because he is only 18. But, unfortunately for him, it will work against him despite his otherwise very competent playing.

Yekwon Sunwoo

The next competitor was 28-year-old Yekwon Sunwoo from South Korea who performed the Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467, with cadenzas by his former teacher, Seymour Lipkin. Sunwoo played a tight and crisp first movement. His second movement was played with conviction. The third movement saw the same tight, crisp playing from Sunwoo. Moreover, he added ornamentation, which obviously pleased conductor McGegan. It was quite amazing to be able to hear every single note even in the quickest passage. He and McGegan were completely in sync, bringing smiles to each other’s faces. It was a joyous performance of a joyful piano concerto.

Han Chen

The third performer tonight was 25-year-old Han Chen from Taiwan who also performed the 21st Concerto, but impressively with his own cadenza. His playing was crisp like Sunwoo’s, but the legato passages were more so than Sunwoo’s. His cadenza was a thing of beauty that brought a broad smile over McGegan’s face. What amazing musical maturity. In the slow movement, when he played the melody with the flute and oboe, he was watching the flutist and oboist. Very professional. All in all a performance worthy of a final round selection.

Rachel Cheung

The last performer tonight and of the semifinal round was 25-year-old Rachel Cheung from Hong Kong, who performed the D Minor concerto with cadenzas by Beethoven and Hummel. Cheung displayed not only the technical skill to play Mozart, but the grace and poetry she has shown throughout the competition. She didn’t just hit all the notes in the first movement; she crafted them into her own song. Her slow movement was lyrical and ethereal. Her third movement built the momentum to the final chords with the only cadenza by Hummel we heard, which only intensified the drama. She crafts each piece she plays as a sculptor or a painter creates a work of art. Cheung is the complete package: skill, technique, artistry.

My predictions for the finals are Kenneth Broberg, Dasol Kim, Honggi Kim, Yutong Sun, Han Chen and Rachel Cheung.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Visit www.cliburn.org.