[Review] Youthful, exuberant virtuosity - Jason Bae at St. Andrew's, Wellington.

By Peter Mechen, 27/09/2015, ©Middle C

Wellington Chamber Music presents:
JASON BAE (piano)

CHOPIN – Four Scherzi
No.1 in B Minor Op.20
No.2 in B-flat Minor Op.31
No.3 in C-sharp Minor Op.39
No.4 in E Major Op.54
BRITTEN/STEVENSON – Fantasy on Peter Grimes (1977)
LISZT – Venezia e Napoli – Gondoliera / Canzone / Tarantella

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, 27th September, 2015

I remember hearing for the first time New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell’s recording of Chopin’s First Scherzo, and being bowled over by the playing’s youthful verve and exuberance.  Similar to Farrell’s in brilliance of execution and youthful élan was the performance of this same work by Jason Bae which opened his Wellington Chamber Music Series recital at St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace on Sunday. For me, in fact, the “shock” of the recital’s opening generated by this young pianist had the effect of a sudden electric charge sent tingling through one’s being, which, of course, was exactly what the composer would have intended.

Jason Bae continued on as he had begun throughout this work, his playing capturing the compulsive “churning” aspect of the figurations, and bringing off the transitions between sections with a fine sensitivity – the central lyrical theme remained slightly “charged”, unable, it seemed to me, to completely relax, brought here, as it had been, in a veritable whirlwind, tempestuous and unnerving!  When it came, the pianist’s reiteration of these agitations heard at the opening simply renewed our astonishment at the fieriness of both music and its performance.

Following this, the tense “question-and-answer” opening phrases of the Second Scherzo were beautifully contrasted, the reply to the darkly-covered beginning ringing and resounding in great style. When repeated, this dialogue took on for me an even more spectral aspect, as if death had made a spoken gesture and been recognized, though Jason Bae’s sensitivity and nimble fingers also kept the passage’s melodic quality stoically to the fore. I liked the pianist’s rich, mellow plunge into the middle sequence’s world – and he did so well with that alchemic transition from those reverential tones back to the recapitulation – a wonderful mini-adventure! Then, in his hands the return to those first exchanges brought out a more rueful, even a somewhat “old friend” quality, after which the interplay of growing tensions culminated in a blistering coda, startling in its power and velocity!

The third Scherzo’s opening was less spectral and sharp-edged than grim and unremitting, dark, terse mutterings followed by angry octaves, delivered with incredible panache! Jason Bae caught the nobility of the contrasting episode, with its beautifully-weighted chords, but seemed to me somewhat at a loss to know what to “do” with the descending filigree figurations, treating them, I thought, as if they were purely decorative. Even when those same noble chords re-emerged decked with darker hues, beautifully voiced by the young pianist, the downward cascadings still lacked, to my ears, any kind of discernible character – strange, when his responses to the music’s other episodes were so sharply and/or richly focused.

After all of this grim, tight-lipped stuff, the relative genialities of the Fourth Scherzo were more than welcome, though Bae seemed more concerned with bringing out the elfin brilliance of the piano writing at the outset more than its good humour. There was breathtakingly delicate playing, with amazing right-hand work in places, the figurations at times just “brushed in”, everything clear as crystal, but light as air and swift as thought.  And the lyrical heart of the work was expressed with legato playing of such loveliness, it seemed churlish to wonder what it was that was in the young pianist’s mind other than the desire to make a beautiful sound. A friend I conferred with immediately after the concert felt much the same thing – that the virtuosity of the playing was breathtaking, but the lyrical moments needed more “character”.

Chopin reputedly said, once, that “if you want to play my music, go to hear Pasta or Rubini” – two of the stars of the opera at the time. Chopin loved the female voice as an instrument (though, surprisingly, he wrote fewer songs than did, say, Liszt), attended the opera regularly,  and befriended opera singers such as Pauline Viadot and Jenny Lind. Though his Nocturnes are celebrated as the most markedly lyrical works in his output, singing lines occur almost everywhere in his other compositions, as witness the central sections of these Scherzi. And just as a singer inflects the melodic lines he or she sings, according to the texts of the songs, so do Chopin’s melodies suggest appropriate dynamic and rhythmic nuance and a range of colour, according to the music’s overall character.

Throughout these Scherzi performances I thought Jason Bae readily captured a sense of the music’s excitement and dynamism, giving the works a wonderful volatile aspect, and a real sense of danger, of encountering the unexpected, and of conquering in places incredibly complex strands of creative impulse and making their intertwining cohere. He was able, as well, to display a gift for realizing a beautiful legato, one which was possible in many instances to enjoy as pure sound (as Chopin was reputed to have enjoyed the female voice or the sound of a violin). Still, in places in these performances I felt the need for more than beauty per se, for a stronger identification with the music’s expression that would give those sounds real intent.

The subjective nature of listening to music enables nine people in a room to add each of their very different impressions of a piece of a music to that of the musician playing it! – ten different reactions to the same piece of music! But I feel that what stimulates this process is the initial recreative thrust given by the performer – without that kind of interpretative commitmenton the part of a player, music can sound incredibly bland, for all the accuracy or surface beauty of its performance.  Bae himself demonstrated such a level of interpretative focus and skill in bringing to us, immediately after the interval,  the programme’s next item – this was Ronald Stevenson’s Fantasy on Peter Grimes, Benjamin Britten’s most famous opera.

Ronald Stevenson (whom I think of as Scottish, but who did have an English mother) died earlier this year at the age of 87. Called by commentators one of the great composer-pianists, his output was considerable, including both large-scale works, a huge body of transcriptions, and hundreds of miniatures. Though he’s credited with writing the longest single-movement work in the piano literature (his Passacaglia on DSCH, inspired by Shostakovich), his songs and piano transcriptions are the best-known of his works. Among the transcriptions for solo piano ( the style of Franz Liszt and his operatic transcriptions or “Reminiscences”) is this Fantasy, written in 1977, the year after Britten’s death.

Not dissimilar to Liszt’s Don Juan Fantasy, which recreates for the listener Mozart’s Don Giovanni through elaborating upon a number of scenes from the opera, though not in theatrical order, Stevenson sets about recreating certain subject-themes from “Peter Grimes”, and, unlike Liszt with “the Don” more-or-less following the design of the opera. Crashing chords with plaintive replies immediately evoke angry voices calling the outcast fisherman’s name at the opera’s beginning, followed by agitated, energetic figurations representing rumour and heresay swirling around Grimes’s head, suspected as he is of causing the death of one of his apprentice boys.

We heard the tumult of the storm and in its desolate wake an extended recitative with softly-whispered scintillations of stars in the firmament overhead, piano writing that staggered with its brilliance, sensitivity and sense of evocation. Jason Bae’s performance caught it all, revelling in the tumultuous piano-writing, but then recreating great vistas of silent, pitiless wonderment, as Grimes took the inevitable, tragic steps towards drowning himself at sea. All that was left at the end was the dawn, which the pianist magically brought into being by plucking the piano strings directly, sounding the “Daybreak” theme from the opera in doing so – a few evocatively-sounded Liszt-like chords, and the piece was over – what a work, and what a performance!

To conclude the recital, Jason Bae chose Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli, music composed as a kind of sequel to the composer’s second Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) collection, consisting of impressions from his sojourns in Italy. There are three separate pieces in the work, the first two relating to the Venice (Venezia) part of the title, and a final Tarantella associated with Southern Italy (Napoli).

Beginning with a kind of introduction in which we heard the rhythm of the gondolier’s oar and the rippling of the water, the music intoned a popular song “La Biondina in Gondoletta”, Liszt most interestingly casting the opening music in the same key (F-sharp) as Chopin was to use in his Barcarolle for solo piano. Jason Bae gave us some exquisitely-sounded, shimmering textures throughout this section, voicing the gondolier’s song with great sensitivity, and making the accompanying arabesques scintillate all around the melody, perhaps not with gossamer ease in places, but certainly with sheer youthful delight! I loved the reminiscence of Berlioz’s “March of the Pilgrims” from his Symphony Harold en Italie at the end of the gondolier’s song, Liszt’s chiming notes recalling something of the dying echoes in Berlioz’s work.

The agitated Canzone which followed gave us the darker side of this picture, the music actually based on another gondolier’s song, this time by Rossini as used in his opera Otello  Bae plunged himself and his instrument into this scenario of darkness and despair, leavening things a little in places with some resigned moments of light in the gloom before rechannelling his energies for another irruption which seemed to come out stamping and snorting! – to then immediately break into a tarantella, the “wildest of dances”, the pianist’s fingers flying over the keys, alternating strength and power with delicacy. Respite of sorts came with the cantabile theme, though as the piece gathered momentum, and the “swirl of the girl gone chancing, glancing, dancing” became wilder, some of the melody’s accompanying trajectories began to sound as hair-raising as the tarantella itself. The ending? – it was pure, unadulterated panache on both composer’s and performer’s part, and earned Jason Bae an enthusiastic and well-deserved reception.

We were returned to normality of a sorts by a couple of encores (yes, really! – and I’m obviously showing my age by remarking “and after all that expenditure of energy!”) – neither of the pieces I knew, though I laid bets with a friend afterwards as to their respective identities – the first, I thought sounded like Liszt, the second Rachmaninov! Thus far, neither of us has collected any winnings from the other, though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time……..

[REVIEW] Admirably adventurous piano program from Jason Bae at Waikanae

Admirably adventurous piano program from Jason Bae at Waikanae

©Middle C (2015) 

By Lindis Taylor, 20/09/2015

Jason Bae – piano

Liszt: Three concert études, S 144 (Il lamento, La leggierezza, Un sospiro)
Puccini/Mikhashoff: Portrait of Madame Butterfly
Chopin: The four Ballades

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 20 September 2:30 pm

The concert by Jason Bae was one of a nationwide series arranged through Chamber Music New Zealand. He also plays, a different programme (see our Coming Events), on 27 September at St Andrew’s on The Terrace for Wellington Chamber Music.

It is commonly a mark of an intelligent and serious minded musician when he plays entire works and, where it’s feasible, complete sets of pieces. Liszt’s Three Concert Études and the four Chopin Ballades are examples of groups of pieces that benefit from being heard together, and formed the major part of an interesting programme.

Il lamento announces its subject with a series of descending phrases, though with little decorative turns that partly disguise much overt grief. In fact, to my ears, rather than the loss of a loved one, it suggests the sort of emotion one feels at the end of an exciting and happy holiday, when the reality of work and chores looms again; but always tempered by delightful memories, and that was reflected in the somewhat sentimental tune that takes over through most of the study. Bae’s playing was unaffected, free of any rhetorical or theatrical excesses, and he even maintained a fairly limited dynamic range, hardly above a mezzo-forte.

La leggierezza assumes a tone that is, of course, lighter, creating a mood of pleasure, where circumstances have produced an ebullience in the spirit; it was fluent and colourful and though he seemed to hit the notes purposefully, they were never percussive.

And Il sospiro, understandably more popular as a result of its sighing (if I can’t find a better word), mildly reflective tone; again even tone, taking full advantage of the fact that humans have two hands; and loving warmth rather than self-indulgence. The trio of beguiling pieces induced me, at home, to dig out a couple of LPs, one by Katchen, one by Jerome Rose, both in lovely warm analogue sound, in performances that hardly surpassed what I’d heard a few hours before in Waikanae.

One approaches arrangements or transcriptions or paraphrases or reminiscences or pot-pourris of others’ music with caution (I’m still thinking of Liszt of course, though a lot of his are wonderfully heart-warming and exciting). An arrangement, perhaps rather a fantasia, on music from Act II of Madama Butterfly, by an American pianist/composer Yvar Mikhashoff (real name Ronald Mackay), is one of several transcriptions from Puccini operas which have been recorded by Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

It’s a very creditable and attractive piece, with most of the recognisable themes from ‘Un bel di’ and the Flower Duet onward; they captured the spirit of self-delusion and of the character of the opera generally. It seemed to be cast the three parts, like a classical suite, with plenty of scintillating virtuosity that suited Jason splendidly.

Then came the rare chance to hear all four of Chopin’s Ballades played successively. They run almost the full gamut of Chopin’s composing life in Paris from 1831 to 1842, and explore all the moods to be found in his piano music: the delicacy, the achingly melodic, the sentimental, the massive climaxes, the limpid gentleness; from passages that even an ordinary pianist can cope with to the parts where that pianist simply closes the score and gets a recording. I

These were admirable performances, which seemed to be enhanced by close proximity to each other. They are hard work and I sensed that towards the end a little tiredness revealed itself. One sometimes wonders whether it is only musical tradition that permits some disparate groups of movements to be known as sonatas or suites and others, like Schubert’s Impromptus or his Drei Klavierstücke, like Chopin’s Scherzi or Ballades, which are rarely played as a group. But then, the challenge of playing them all in a row might be quite a persuasive reason.

After most of the crowd stood in acclamation, Jason talked his way to playing another tough piece, another opera transcription. Because he judged that not many in the audience might have been familiar with the story of Peter Grimes, he went through it and then played a seven-minute-long Peter Grimes Fantasy by Ronald Stevenson, a pianist and composer who died earlier this year (why is he only a vague name to me?). It’s a fantasy on many of the musical ideas in Britten’s great opera and the sounds he produced created a disturbingly realistic impression of the opera, with recognizable moments like the storm, Ellen’s Embroidery aria, motifs from the last harrowing scene, suggesting the dawn and the sea and the work’s enigmatic conclusion. Towards the end he stood to reach inside the piano to pluck the strings: for once with some musical purpose. Though the place in the opera of the little evanescent motif eluded me, it conjured the uncanny atmosphere that Britten evoked during the depiction of Grimes’s crisis and disappearance.

I found a quote by pianist John Humphreys about Stevenson’s piece: “His seven minute ‘Peter Grimes Fantasy’ encapsulates the essence of the opera in a way that astonished Britten at a private performance in Aldeburgh”.

As an encore it was courageous and in a way, was the most revelatory and memorable piece that we heard in the afternoon. It also revealed something of the breadth, and perhaps the depth, of this young musician’s musical experience and understanding; he is no mere piano virtuoso, but a well-schooled artist with an admirable curiosity, and the entire programme reflected those qualities.

Jason Bae, piano | Auckland Town Hall 2015

JASON BAE'S BACK IN TOWN | 15 SEPTEMBER 2015

With the ink barely dry on his Royal Academy of Music Master of Arts in Piano Performance (complete with the highest distinction award DipRAM), Jason Bae is returning from London to perform a piano recital at the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber, Tuesday 15 September 2015 and to release his first CD.

Photo Credit: Aiga Ozo (2015)

Photo Credit: Aiga Ozo (2015)

PROGRAMME:

Liszt - Etudes de Concert, S.144
1. "Il Lamento"   2. "La leggierezza"   3. "Un Sospiro"

Britten/Stevenson - Fantasy on "Peter Grimes"

Puccini/Mikhashoff - Portrait of Madame Butterfly

Intermission

Chopin - Four Ballades

BUY TICKETS:  www.ticketmaster.co.nz  |  0800 111 999
Adult $29.90  |  Gold Card $25  |  Student $15

15 September 2015  |  7.30pm  |  Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber

CD's ON SALE SEPTEMBER 2015

Photo Credit: Aiga Ozo (2015)

Photo Credit: Aiga Ozo (2015)

Four Ballades

Four Ballades

dedicated to Jason Bae

 

A prodigy studying at the Academy

plays Chopin in a hospital chapel with blue-gold windows

and tapestry kneelers;

 

a young patient listens in a wheelchair 

strapped to a chemo-stand

tufts of unsure hair, the whites of her eyes paler than glass

 

fingers slip over black and white ivory rivers,

water downstream

notes dipping inside invisible places

 

reaching the edges of a morning sky

where winter sea-birds sleep

and where white hyacinths are strewn over an ocean

 

where glimpses of light from a solar moon

wakes days drowning into days

opens empty rooms

 

after the concert, she speaks in mono-syllables

snow falling as snow       

at last I know

why it is, that I do want to live.

 

- Audrey Ardern-Jones (2015)
Revised on (2016) 

2015 Chamber Music New Zealand Encompass Tour - Jason Bae, piano.

JASON BAE (PIANO)

| Young Steinway Artist | 20 Sep 2015 to 12 Oct 2015 |

About

Brilliant young pianist Jason Bae is returning to the Encompass Regional Series with two programme sparkling with virtuosity and flair.
In 2013, Jason received his Bachelor of Music in piano performance with First Class Honours from the University of Auckland under the tutelage of Rae de Lisle. He has also studied at the Aspen Music Festival and School with Ann Schein and John O'Conor. He is currently completing his Masters of Arts in piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music in London studying with Christopher Elton and Joanna MacGregor.

His long list of prize wins and awards include: In 1st Prize in the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition in New York, which gained him a performance at the Carnegie Hall Weill Recital Hall (2008); New Zealand Young Performer of the Year (2008); 2nd Prize at the Lev Vlassenko International Piano Competition, Australia (2009). In 2013 he was the Grand 1st Prize Winner of the New Zealand Inaugural Wallace National Piano Competition. Jason has appeared as soloist with the 2010 NZSO National Youth Orchestra, and he has also made concerto appearances with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra of Australia, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestra, and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

In 2012 Jason was the First New Zealander to become the Young Steinway Artist.

Programme One

Performed in Waikanae, Rangiora, Warkworth, Kaitaia, Whakatane

Chopin | Four  Ballades
Liszt | Etudes de Concert, S.144
No 1 ‘Il Lamento’
No 2 ‘La leggierezza’
No 3 ‘Un sospiro’
Liszt |No.6 ‘Vallee d’Oberman’

Programme Two

Performed in Motueka, Blenheim, Wellington, Taihape, Rotorua

Chopin | Scherzo selection
Prokofiev | Piano Sonata No.1    
Liszt | Venezia e Napoli, S.159
No 1 ‘Gondoliera’
No 2 ‘Canzone’
No 3 ‘Tarantella'

*Putaruru programme still to be confirmed

When & Where

Date | Time | Centre | Venue 

20 Sep 2015 | 2:30 pm | Waikanae Memorial Hall | $33 Buy tickets
21 Sep 2015  | 7:30 pm | Rangiora The Chamber Gallery | $30 Buy tickets
23 Sep 2015 | 7:30 pm | Motueka Chanel Arts Centre | $20 Buy tickets
25 Sep 2015 | 6:00 pm | Blenheim St Andrew's Church | $35 Buy tickets
27 Sep 2015 | 3:00 pm | Wellington St Andrew's, The Terrace | $40 Buy tickets
1 Oct 20150 | 7:00 pm | Warkworth Mahurangi College Hall | $30 Buy tickets
4 Oct 2015 | 2:00 pm | Kaitaia Te Ahu Complex | $20 Buy tickets
7 Oct 2015 | 7:30 pm | Taihape Taihape & District Womens Club
9 Oct 2015 | 7:30 pm | Putaruru Plaza Theatre | $30 Buy tickets
11 Oct 2015 | 2:00 pm | Whakatane St George & St John | $25 Buy tickets
12 Oct 2015 | 7:30 pm | Rotorua Concert Chamber | $30 Buy tickets

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Music Futures Festival - Asia House London

Music Futures Festival – Final Day 21 January

Asia House & Talent Unlimited are delighted to present a special three-day festival of music and masterclasses in celebration of young musicians from Turkey, Asia and the UK.

Wednesday 21 January

11.30 Coffee Concert: South Korean-New Zealander pianist, Jason Bae.

Programme

Chopin 4 Ballades

Details

Start: 21 January 2015 11:30
End: 21 January 2015 20:30

Venue

Asia House
63 New Cavendish St London, W1G 7LP, United Kingdom

Organizer

Asia House

Tickets

http://asiahouse.org/events/music-futures-festival-final-day-21st-january/