Faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang discusses his Nov. 29 Horowitz Piano Series recital program

Wei-Yi Yang

On Nov. 29, faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang will perform a Horowitz Piano Series recital featuring Schubert’s demanding and lively “Gasteiner” Sonata. The program will also showcase music by Bach and two composers whose work he inspired, Schumann and Liszt.

Talking about the pieces that will begin the concert — Liszt’s Prelude after J.S. Bach, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, and selections from Schumann’s Four Fugues, Op. 72 — Yang said, “These two important composers of the Romantic period followed in Bach’s footsteps in the works selected here. Although some might associate Bach’s works and methods with precise craftsmanship and mathematical intrigue, here the two Romantics inherited the Baroque master’s obsession and passion in developing motifs and subjects, and grew the smallest musical seedlings into magnificent forests.

“It is striking to hear how two of the greatest Romantic composers used chromaticism and harmonic turns in the mid-1800s, lush and wayward they may be, which at times seem perfectly aligned with Baroque sensibilities,” Yang said. Their work in these pieces, he said, “encapsulates the timelessness of Bach’s vision and influence.”

Yang further explained that “Bach at his core is about the elements of song, dance, and, most of the time, a combination of both. The partitas are cosmopolitan collections of different dance movements that go straight to the heart of Baroque style in elegance and eloquence. Schubert is also always about the song (Lieder) and the dance, although in dance he is singularly obsessed with the Ländler style, which can be felt in the center movements of the D-major Sonata.”

The “Gasteiner,” Yang said, “is unusually sunny and optimistic for Schubert, although it is not without nostalgia and tenderness, while the composer spins out an unusual, virtuosic keyboard style combined with orchestral and quartet sonority and the omnipresent singing lyricism that is deeply embedded in his DNA.”

Asked about the significance of the program being centered on the key of D, Yang said, “I must confess that hearing a tonal thread is very important to me when I listen to and conceive the details of a program.”

 What’s important to him in the end is that “the audience will see and hear the prismatic aspects in music that I strive to unlock, whether it’s about tonal relationships, stylistic influences, or genre crossing.”

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Published November 21, 2017
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YSM professor and Brahms expert Paul Berry, on faculty pianist Boris Berman’s Sept. 27 recital program

Boris Berman, left, and Paul Berry

School of Music faculty pianist Boris Berman kicks off the 2017-2018 Horowitz Piano Series on Wednesday, Sept. 27, with an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119. We spoke with YSM Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry, the author of Brahms Among Friends: Listening, Performance, and the Rhetoric of Allusion (Oxford University Press, 2014), about the works that Professor Berman will perform, what the music tells us about the composer and his environment, and what the late piano works demand of a performer.

Q: Brahms’ piano pieces, Opp. 116-119, were composed during the last decade of his life. What does that lateness mean in terms of the character of these pieces, and in the context of his career and his personal life? According to our program notes, Lionel Salter said, of Op. 116, “It is as if the composer at the end of his life had compressed the essence of his musical and emotional thoughts into these miniatures.” And Brahms himself described the Op. 117 set as “lullabies of my sorrow.” What, if anything, did Brahms’ friend Clara Schumann say about these pieces?

A: Well, the idea of lateness can inform our hearing of these piano pieces in several productive ways. The most obvious is their placement in the composer’s output. In the early 1890s, Brahms was not yet 60, and all his friends constantly commented on his fitness and robust health; he had no idea that this would turn out to be his last decade. But he did know that he would soon retire from public life as a composer. Indeed, he had already retired once, only to return to composition when he encountered the clarinet playing of Richard Muehlfeld. The late piano miniatures are the most abundant fruit of what he planned to be his final harvest. Especially with the example of late Beethoven in the ears of the musical public, a composer would naturally understand that his final works were likely to be interpreted as summations of his craft and emotional range, and compose them with the judgment of posterity in mind. Certainly Brahms did so with these piano pieces.

At the same time, the late piano pieces first surfaced not in published form, but in manuscript copies made for Clara Schumann, one of the great pianists and musicians of the century and Brahms’ oldest and firmest friend. Throughout the summers of 1892 and 1893, he sent her packages containing individual miniatures, some of which were so dramatic in effect that she took them to be the building blocks of a larger piano sonata (a genre Brahms had avoided since his youth). Though she had retired from the concert stage by now, these pieces soon became a dominant focus of her private music-making. In fact, we have accounts from her daughters and grandchildren concerning her renditions of them and, in some cases, the poetic significance she attached to them (Op. 118, No. 5, for instance, seemed to her to represent the emotional landscape of an elderly couple reminiscing about their lives together while their grandchildren play nearby). So from both a professional and a personal standpoint, Brahms’ late works lend themselves to interpretation as late works.

Q: In what historical and political contexts were these pieces composed, and how did Brahms’ immediate environment and the changing world around him inform the music he composed toward the end of his life? What do the pieces of Opp. 116-119 tells us about where composition had been and where it was headed?   

A: Brahms’ political environment was challenging for him and his fellow liberals, who found their longstanding commitment to education, religious tolerance, and upper-middle-class values under assault from populist and overtly religious parties, whose members preferred the more direct musical styles of composers like Wagner or Bruckner. Brahms’ primary musical market was under attack, and these pieces can be understood as speaking to the alternately nostalgic and grumpy impulses of a soon-to-be minority party. Those elements of this music that seem to us now the most forward-looking (daring modulations, hazy tonality, complex interweaving of multiple melodies) may actually have been designed to summon up appreciation for the learned elements of a craft that many already perceived to be outdated and in decline.

Q: Talk if you would about the form, structure, and styles of these pieces and how Brahms might’ve intended them to be performed and presented.

A: Most of these pieces present some variant of ternary, or three-part, form, in which the main material is presented at the beginning, cedes its place to contrasting material in the middle, and then returns to close the work near the end. Brahms’ craft emerges in the seemingly infinite variety of approaches that this ancient musical form elicits from him in each individual context, from the straightforward, almost folk-like simplicity of Op. 118, No. 5, to the complex twists and turns of Op. 117, No. 2. It’s always worth listening for moments of return, when familiar material reappears, and comparing them to one’s memory of that material from earlier in the piece; so many of these works create subtle but remarkable transformations in mood when one encounters the same material in new contexts.

Although these pieces are rightly seen as intimate, private ruminations, this is also virtuosic music, though it usually wears its virtuosity in an understated way. Most of the pieces were premiered in public by the best pianists then performing, and reviewers consistently noted the difficulties that they posed to a pianist’s technique, especially in the faster pieces. The final work on the recital, Op. 119, No. 4, is a good example, with its whirl of gypsy-style rhythms. But the slower works, too, present real technical challenges involving the thickening of texture, and these challenges are often aligned with pivotal moments in the unfolding of the piece: the return of familiar material after a long absence, for instance, is often much harder to play than the initial presentation of the tune. Even the famous lullaby, Op. 117, No. 1, is almost overwhelmed near the end when its fragile voices multiply under the pianist’s hands.

Q: What should audiences listen for in these works as they think about Brahms and his world and the culture in which we live today?

A: Some elements of our current political scene (the rise of populist ideologies in the United States and abroad, increasingly overt intolerance and suspicion of “elite” attitudes, a pervasive sense of loss and frustration) mirror aspects of Brahms’ own environment in the 1890s. The variety of moods explored in these short piano pieces, from resignation and nostalgia to brooding anger and firm resilience, therefore resonate productively in the present moment.

Q: What, in your opinion, does Professor Berman bring to these works? And what do these pieces require of a pianist, both technically and with regard to scholarship?

A: These works require of a pianist a deep immersion in the intricacies of the composer’s craft and a deep commitment to the emotional world projected in each piece. Professor Berman brings both immersion and commitment to his playing. He also brings a firm sense of clarity with respect to large-scale structure. He does not “lose” his listeners, but guides them through the unfolding of each piece.

Faculty pianist and Horowitz Piano Series Artistic Director Boris Berman performs an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry will give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm in the Blocker Room. Learn more and purchase tickets

Published September 25, 2017
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Yale Collection of Musical Instruments joins live streaming

Masaaki Suzuki’s harpsichord recital at the Collection of Musical Instruments on Tuesday, April 26 will stream live at music.yale.edu/media. This is the first time that the School of Music will live-stream from the Collection.

photo by Marco Borggreve

Suzuki performs regularly as a conductor as well as a keyboardist. In this recital, he will play music from France, England, and Germany, with compositions by Louis Couperin (the uncle of the better-known François Couperin), William Byrd, Jakob Froberger, Dietrich Buxtehude, and – Suzuki’s specialty – Johann Sebastian Bach.

The program opens with Couperin’s Suite in A minor and Passacaille in C major, followed by Byrd’s Ninth Pavane and Gaillarde, from My Ladye Nevells Booke. Suzuki will then play Froberger’s Partita No. 12 in C major, “Lamento sopra la dolorosa,” and Buxtehude’s Prelude in G minor. He will close the program with two works by Bach: the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat minor, BWV 853, and the Partita No. 6 in E minor.

Masaaki Suzuki will play two of the Collection’s harpsichords: a Flemish instrument made by Andreas Ruckers in Antwerp around 1640, and an “expressive double” made in Paris by François Etienne Blanchet the Elder around 1740.

The recital will take place on Tuesday, April 26 at 5 pm at the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments (15 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven). Tickets to this recital are $20, $15 for seniors, $10 for students. The live stream can be accessed at music.yale.edu/media.

For more information, visit music.yale.edu or call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158.

Published April 25, 2011
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Faculty violinist Wendy Sharp joined by pianist Joel Wizansky in November 7 recital

Program celebrates anniversaries of Barber, Chopin, and Schumann, presents multiple U.S. premieres

The Yale School of Music presents a performance by Wendy Sharp, violin and Joel Wizansky, piano on Sunday, November 7 at 4 pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall (470 College Street) as part of the School’s Faculty Artist Series. The program will bring together works by Mozart, Schumann, Chopin, Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Theofanidis, and Chris Rogerson.

In addition to Mozart’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in F major, K. 376, Ms. Sharp and Mr. Wizansky will perform Robert Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 105, and two pieces by Frédéric Chopin to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the births of these two great nineteeth-century composers. The Chopin works are his Nocturnes in C-sharp minor and E-flat major, transcribed for violin and piano by two legendary violinists, Pablo de Sarasate and Nathan Milstein.

The Chris Rogerson work, Lullaby: no bad dreams, was commissioned by the Curtis Institute as a companion piece to a sonata by Samuel Barber – born one hundred years ago – that is missing one movement. Rogerson is a composition student at the Yale School of Music, where two of the other composers on the program are on the faculty. Aaron Jay Kernis’s Dance of Life, based on a painting by Charles Munch, will receive its US premiere. Christopher Theofanidis’s Fantasy was written for Sarah Chang and is based on the second movement of the composer’s violin concerto. MORE

Published October 15, 2010
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Boris Berman and Eteri Andjaparidze join together in an evening of Schumann piano duos October 13

First Horowitz Series concert of the season celebrates the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth

The Horowitz Piano Series at the Yale School of Music presents Boris Berman and Eteri Andjaparidze playing piano duos of Robert Schumann on Wednesday, October 13 at 8 pm in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven).

Berman, coordinator of the piano department and artistic director of the Horowitz Piano Series, has been praised for his “poetical refinement and intense musicality” (New York Times). The Boston Globe has called Andjaparidze, who hails from the Republic of Georgia, “a phenomenal pianist.”

The duo will play music both for piano four hands and for two pianos, including the Andante and Variations for Two Pianos in B flat Major, Op. 46 (1843) and Pictures from the East for piano four hands, Op. 66 (1849). Schumann was a master of miniature forms, and the program will include character pieces and dances selected from Eight Polonaises (1828), Twelve Pieces for Children Big and Small, Op. 85 (1850), Children’s Ball, Op. 130 (1853), and Ball Scenes, Op. 109 (1851).

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Published September 24, 2010
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Cellist Dmitri Atapine presents February 11 recital

DMA recital features Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Laderman

atapine_2cThe Yale School of Music presents a Doctor of Musical Arts recital featuring cellist Dmitri Atapine on Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall. Atapine has garnered praise for his a “warm vividly coloristic touch on the cello and seemingly effortless command of any stylistic device” (Lucid Culture). He will perform with pianist Hye-yeon Park, a fellow graduate of the School of Music with whom he recorded a critically-acclaimed CD for Urtext Digital, a label distributed by Naxos.

The program will open with Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, Op, 70, and will continue with Ezra Laderman’s Fantasy for Solo Cello from 1998. The second half of the program features Beethoven’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4 in C major, Op. 102, No. 1, and Chopin’s Sonata for Piano and Cello in G minor, Op. 65.

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Published January 22, 2010
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Wendy Sharp in Sunday afternoon recital Nov. 15

sharp_emailViolinist Wendy Sharp will join with pianist Julie Nishmura in a Faculty Artist Recital featuring a broad range of music from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first. Several pieces on the program are based on earlier music, including the opening work: Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, based on his ballet Pulcinella, which in turn reworked music of the Italian baroque. Flow, my tears, by Yale faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis, references John Dowland’s 1596 air of the same name. Dvorak’s Four Romantic Pieces for violin and piano are arranged from his own Miniatures for two violins and viola. Mozart’s Sonata in A major, K. 526, provides a classical anchor. The program will conclude with Jennifer Higdon’s String Poetic, a piece praised by the New York Times as “striking.” The San Francisco Chronicle noted its “rhetorical clarity and dexterous interplay between the two instruments.” The recital will take place on Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 4 pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven).

Admission to the recital is free. For more information, visit the School of Music’s website or call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158. MORE

Published October 27, 2009
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Pianist Wei-Yi Yang to perform Chopin and Scriabin

yang_vThe dynamic pianist Wei-Yi Yang, who won over audiences last year with his fiery performance in Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie, will perform a solo recital on Wednesday, October 14 at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall (470 College Street, corner of Wall St., New Haven). The program will feature the music of Chopin and Scriabin, including Chopin’s Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45; Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48 no. 2; and Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, as well as Scriabin’s Twelve Etudes and the Poème-nocturne, Op. 61.

Tickets are only $11 to $20, students $6. Subscriptions to the Horowitz Piano Series are available until September 30. MORE

Published September 23, 2009
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Mezzo-soprano Janna Baty makes faculty artist recital debut

baty_vMezzo-soprano Janna Baty, now in her second year on the faculty of the Yale School of Music, will perform a recital on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall. In her first appearance on the Faculty Artist Series, Baty and pianist Karl Paulnack will perform Beethoven’s An die Ferne Geliebte and selected songs from the Spanish composer Fernando Obradors, as well as Apparition, a piece by George Crumb for soprano and amplified piano. In addition, Baty and Paulnack will be joined by flutist Laura Gilbert and cellist Jacques Wood for Ravel’s Chansons Madécasses.

Admission to the concert is free. For more information on the Faculty Artist Series and other performances at the Yale School of Music, visit music.yale.edu or call 203 432-4158.

About the artist
Janna Baty, mezzo-soprano, has appeared recently with the Hamburgische Staatsoper, the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Eugene Opera, Opera North, and Boston Lyric Opera. She appears regularly with the contemporary ensembles Collage New Music, Auros Group for New Music, and Boston Modern Orchestra Project, with whom she recorded a disc for Naxos of works by Reza Vali. Ms. Baty was winner of the XXI International Music Competition “Dr. Luis Sigall” in Chile. She has sung under Seiji Ozawa, Michel Plasson, Carl Davis, Robert Spano, and Steuart Bedford. Festival appearances include Aldeburgh and Britten (England), Semanas Musicales de Frutillar (Chile), and Tanglewood and Norfolk (U.S.). As recitalist and chamber musician, she has performed in Europe, the U.S., and South America with such distinguished musicians as violist Nobuko Imai, pianists Claude Frank and Peter Frankl, and guitarist Stephen Marchionda. Ms. Baty has worked with composers Bernard Rands, Sydney Hodkinson, Peter Child, Christopher Lyndon Gee, Fred Lerdahl, Yehudi Wyner, and John Harbison, in performances of their music. An alumna of Oberlin College and the Yale School of Music, she joined the Yale faculty in 2008.

Published September 22, 2009
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