MADISON, Wis. - Ken Kosier, a gifted amateur pianist and a friend for 59 years, seemed excited as he greeted me before the Madison Symphony Orchestra concert Friday.
"I can't believe they convinced Joyce Yang to play in Madison," he said. "You usually only see her in places like New York and Chicago; she has a fantastic reputation."
A few minutes later, Yang proved why she has such a reputation as she completely blew away an Overture Hall audience. We will get back to that in a moment.
The three weekend concerts are all of a continuum. They include a 2005 composition, "Newly Drawn Sky," by Aaron Jay Kernis; a 1921 "Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra," by Sergei Prokofiev; and Robert Schumann's "Symphony No. 2," first performed in 1845.
"Newly Drawn Sky" is an interesting piece. As I observed the orchestra, I started getting mildly irritated at the music; it just seemed that weird noises were popping up all over. But when I closed my eyes and just listened everything seemed to mellow out and I could imagine myself sitting on a beach watching the dawn. Interestingly enough, when I talked to Kosier during the intermission, he said he had had the same experience.
You certainly wouldn't want to close your eyes when Yang is playing, however.
She is an unbelievable musician and I honestly don't understand how she can make her fingers move as rapidly over the keyboard as she does.
When she is playing, she hunches over the keyboard and seems to pound the keys. Then, when the orchestra takes over, she leans back almost as if she is relaxing on a recliner.
A native of Korea, Yang moved to the U.S. at age 11 to take lessons at Julliard. She regularly does play in New York, Chicago, Berlin and now, Madison.
The program concluded with the Schumann symphony, one which, according to J. Michael Allsen's program notes, the composer blamed on his depression.
Maybe so, but I found the piece to feel friendly, not dark.
John DeMain's MSO performed well, as usual, during the entire evening. Yang's encore, "The Man I Love" by George Gershwin, was a welcome addition to the heavier classics.
All in all, it is an exciting performance.
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