A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

June 3: Day three of the semifinal round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Tony Yike Yang and Yekwon Sunwoo

Tony Yike Yang

Tony Yike Yang, an 18 year old from Canada, performed four works: two sonatas by Scarlatti, the A major K 212 and the D minor K 9; the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor Op. 39 by Chopin; and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Yang has definitely improved from the first round. While others may be getting fatigued from performing three hour-long recitals in front of a jury and audience, Yang seems to be hitting his stride. He is, after all, only 18. His Scarlatti was light and refreshing and not too heavy handed. He nailed the Chopin. The third movement is gut-wrenching enough, but Yang really drew even more pathos out of it. He played almost the entire fourth movement soto voce until the final fortissimo chord. It was very effective.

He concluded with the fourth installment of the Mussorgsky. And he put his unique stamp on it. Compared with the other three versions of this piece we have heard thus far, his was idiosyncratic, with interesting dynamic changes and emphases not heard in the other renditions. It’s difficult to say which one we liked best. It’s such a great piece of music that is so recognizable that it really boils down to personal preference. But Yang gave us a contender among the bunch.

Yekwon Sunwoo

The second half of the afternoon recital was performed by 28-year-old Yekwon Sunwoo from South Korea. He performed a unique program of three works: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, the Strauss-Grainger “Ramble on the Last Love-duet” from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, and the Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82 by Prokofiev.

The Beethoven is the third to the last sonata he wrote. Having come to terms with his deafness and suffering from other physical ailments, Beethoven wrote not only some of the most glorious music in his own repertoire, but in anyone’s repertoire. Also, his late sonatas contain a simplicity (not of technique) and compactness that contrast with much of his earlier, more stormy sonatas. The third movement of the 30th stands out for its sublime beauty. Sunwoo waited several seconds after the second movement before starting the third movement, not only preparing himself, but the audience as well. And he took the audience through his own personal journey of all the variations. The sonata ends as it begins — quietly and delicately.

Percy Grainger penned a complex arrangement of the last love duet from Richard Strauss’ opera, Der Rosenkavalier. It was an interesting inclusion by Sunwoo, but it demonstrated his ability to make the piano sound light and airy with lush arpeggios. It was definitely for the jury.

Speaking of selections to demonstrate his musical and technical prowess, Sunwoo finished with the Prokofiev. Several competitors have performed Prokofiev sonatas, mostly the sonatas Nos. 7 and 8. The sixth sonata is less well known and is in the standard four-movement format. The second and third movements remind one of his Romeo and Juliet. The sonata is long and makes serious demands on both the performer and the listener. But Sunwoo obviously knew who his audience was: a very sophisticated and knowledgeable one. And he navigated the varied landscapes of the four movements with a command sure to move him to the next round. He was right about the audience: they brought him out three times with their cheering and standing ovation.

–Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Visit www.cliburn.org.