A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

June 2: Day two of the semifinal round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Yutong Sun, Honggi Kim, Yury Favorin and Georgy Tchaidze

Yutong Sun from China

Yutong Sun, a 21-year-old from China, performed three works, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a, “Les Adiux,” the Étude No. 3, Un sospiro by Liszt, and Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky.

He began with a powerful and impassioned performance of the well-known Beethoven sonata, which is at once sentimental and exhibits great longing in the Adagio opening of the first movement and in the slow movement and lightheartedness in the final movement. Yutong’s performance was restrained yet emotive. He tackled the range of emotions in this great sonata from Beethoven’s middle period with an ease seen in much older players. Very moving.

Yutong’s programming of Un sospiro (“The sigh”) between the Beethoven and the Mussorgsky was masterful. It was a perfect musical sorbet after the fiery third movement of the Beethoven and the enormity of the main course, the Mussorgsky. Unexpectedly, Yutong transitioned right into the Mussorgsky without allowing the audience to applaud. He had a grand plan, and it was very effective.

Both Daniel Hsu’s and Yutong’s interpretations of the Mussorgsky belied the youth of the performers. Yutong used his whole body to play. Each segment was inspired. He was lost in the Pictures. The return to the Promenade was slow and magisterial, and his entire rendition was symphonic. After hearing such a performance, one can certainly understand why Ravel would have wanted to orchestrate it.

Especially in the Beethoven third movement and the Mussorgsky, Yutong leaned way into the piano and then bounced on top of the stool as if he were trying to tame it. Tame it he did.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Honggi Kim, Yury Favorin and Georgy Tchaidze

The preeminent Menahem Pressler, the pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio and a judge in the 1993 Van Cliburn International Competition, said in a documentary about the competition: “I love music, and I would love to meet another lover — I don’t want to meet another player. That’s what I love and look for… there comes someone along who will turn a phrase in a way that composer likes and I could feel that he found for himself. This is his treasure and he shares it with me. Then I would love him, because he has given me something I don’t have without him.”

The lover that I met tonight was Honggi Kim of South Korea. Of the three contestants I heard today (I missed Yutong Sun of China.), Kim displayed the greatest sense of poetry in the music. The repertoire he chose — Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana, of course, required it, as Schumann is arguably the most poetic among the Romantic composers.

Kim played with an incredible level of transparency that allowed his audience to home in on the multitude of voices in the music as they converged and diverged. But what was most breathtaking of all was his ability to convey the emotional fragility of the voices, which invited the audience to be vulnerable, disarm their emotional guards, and allow the sound waves of the music to fill every crevasse in the chambers of their hearts. If this isn’t the safest form of love-making, then I don’t know what is.

If the Russians can always be counted on to display raw power and technical brilliance, the two remaining Russians that closed the evening didn’t disappoint. The impossible fury of notes Yury Favorin threw in his performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata No. 1 could only be achieved by a mad man. And indeed, Favorin’s Shostakovich had the quality of a one-man act in a psychodrama. His performance of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier while introspective, lacked the quiet intensity of Kim’s Schumann. Still the stark contrast in pairing Beethoven’s Hammerklaiver, with its noble humanity in the slow movement, and Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata No. 1, with its primal raw energy, made for an exhilarating program.

Georgy Tchaidze closed with Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Tchaidze was brilliant in his display of talent and power, but less so in presenting the varied tonal colors and ornaments that give Mussorgksy’s music its rich and vibrant beauty and add to its emotional depth.

Who will be my lover in the next round? Who do you wish to be yours? Let’s hear the next round!

—Samuel Jang, Culture Spot LA

Visit www.cliburn.org.