2017 Advanced Piano Student Reviews
Robert Masi, student of Hyeweon Gessner: Saturday, June 10, 2017, Levine Music Lang Hall
One of the most rewarding opportunities Levine offers its community of musicians and music lovers is the chance we have, every year, to hear some of the school’s most talented students perform Advanced Recitals. Robert Masi, of Fairfax, VA (soon to enroll as a freshman at Washington and Lee University), was the latest of these talented young artists to take the Lang Hall stage in his June 10th piano recital. A student of Dr. Hyeweon Gessner—whose opening remarks painted a picture of a hard-working, mature, and kind young man—Robert is a thoughtful musician, and he was clearly comfortable taking on a very challenging program.
He began with a sensitive performance of Ravel’s Jeaux d’eau, proving capable of the crisp fingerwork and clarity called for in the piece’s colorful washes of sound. It was clear that Robert was listening carefully to the sounds he was creating, which is a skill not easily learned or sustained. I would have loved to hear a bit more harmonic support in the left hand to help direct the musical lines and provide a warm, stable cushion for the right hand, but he did an admirable job of evoking the imagery of water and light which was so important to this piece.
As in the Ravel, the left hand harmonies in Robert’s performance of the Sonata in E flat Major, Op. 31 No. 3, by Beethoven could have provided more grounding support, but the energy he brought to the piece and the tempos he chose were spot on. Young pianists commonly allow the pace of this sonata to run away from them, but Robert remained in control throughout and played with a really impressive amount of poise—particularly in the midst of commotion in hall that would have thwarted the concentration of many more seasoned pianists.
After a short intermission, it was on to the mysterious opening of Chopin’s G Minor Ballade, played with an emotional pain and confusion not easily tapped by young artists. The beautiful opening really set the stage for what was clearly Robert’s strongest piece of the afternoon, both technically and musically. It was evident to the audience that he was connecting with the piece in a more human and personal way, and subsequently, the balance and musical contrast improved vastly. Robert’s technical talents were also fully apparent here. The notoriously difficult leaps, passages, and octaves were handled cleanly and in time, and the devastating coda was just devastating enough to be affective.
The final piece of the afternoon—Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse—was a perfect microcosm of the entire recital and of Robert’s musicianship. The sounds were individually beautiful, the attention to detail was on point, the energy and pacing were extremely mature, the technical elements were impressively executed, and the poise of the performance overall was well beyond his years. In other words, all of the pieces are there for Robert to take that rare next leap into first-class musicianship, and this is really exciting to see. That leap, will come about as Robert continues to gain a deeper understanding of the supreme importance of contrast to music’s overall efficacy. The contrasts between light and dark, or water and fire, or love and loss are what makes art so connective to the human soul, because the beauty of joy, only really begins to make sense once we more fully understand the pains of sorrow. Each end of the spectrum of contrast enhances the other, and the dialogue between these contrasting musical elements is what breathes oxygen into the music’s lungs and gives it human life. Achieving this contrast is the true challenge of any musician, and Robert Masi, it seems, is primed to take the next step in that artistic challenge.
By Gregory Brown, Levine Piano Faculty
Alexander Tsereteli, student of Cecilia Cho: Friday, June 16, 2017, Levine Music Lang Hall
There was an aura of excitement and high expectations in the Lang Hall, which was filled to capacity with family and friends, as well as numerous faculty members. One could almost taste the electricity in the air and it was obvious to everyone that a special event was about to take place. That event was a solo recital by a sixteen-year-old honor student, Alexander Tsereteli.
I have known Alex’s playing for a few years now and each time I hear him, I am amazed how rapidly he progresses, forming into a serious musician. That growth can be easily attributed to his devilish talent, but I have seen many ultra-talented students in the past and realized that pure talent is not enough, even when it’s backed with hard work. To be able to progress in such way, number of factors must be realized and besides talent, intellect and hard work, one must be guided in the right direction and receive support from the closest circle of people. Alex has it all: his parents and his teacher Cecilia Cho, who has done wonders with him for the past ten years.
The program started with a beautiful, almost Schubertian, Sonata Op.90 by Beethoven. It’s an unusual Sonata, with only two movements, filled with some of the most lyrical music Beethoven ever wrote. Alex’s performance was extremely involved, polished and ultrasensitive. Each phrase was carefully shaded and planned. His playing was very confident and utterly focused, so much so that even an annoying cell phone ring in the audience did not distract his concentration. Listening to Alex play, one could almost forget his young age, as his performance was very mature. This sonata poses several obstacles which are very difficult to tackle by someone of Alex’s age, no matter how talented. It’s lyricism and resemblance to Schubert make the young pianist want to focus mainly on the beautiful vocal themes, rather than traits so characteristic for Beethoven, such as musical structure, unpredictability, stern pulse and extremes of the dynamics. I felt that Alex still fell into this trap, however doing so with such grace and musical conviction that one can easily forgive that sin of a young age.
Next came a set of Chopin pieces, a selection that could not be more different from each other in length, style and emotional content, Fantasy Op.49 and Etude Op.10 No.5. The etude was a pure joy to listen. Technically brilliant, colorful and elegant. Never virtuosic for its own sake, the right hand fast passages seemed almost as pearls, with each individual note beautifully polished. This reviewer can hardly remember a better performance of this etude from a student. Written in 1841 and probably one of the most serious works Chopin has ever written, the Fantasy, posed similar difficulties as Beethoven – the maturity of composer’s later style. Even though Alex has a very clear idea about what he wants to achieve with this music, I felt that he still is uncomfortable with how Chopin draws a very thin line between a strict classical side of his writing and more fantasy-like Romantic side. Achieving this balance is an ultimate success, especially for someone so young, and I have no doubt that Alex will get there very soon.
Prokofiev Sonata No.3 Op.28 is a favorite among young pianists and a wonderful introduction to Prokofiev’s world. Alexander’s performance was crisp, witty and full of grotesque character, which I always felt was characteristic of Prokofiev’s style. It had a “bite” and virtuosity, even though I felt a tiny bit of dissatisfaction with the quality of his sound. Alex’s use of una corda pedal was quite excessive over the course of the whole recital and I know he was trying to be careful, having a Steinway D at his disposal and a very limited acoustical space, however this became a slight issue for me in this sonata. Nevertheless Alex brought the sonata to a wonderful and sonorous finale.
Nikolai Kapustin’s two Preludes in Jazz Style Op.53 were the final selection of the recital and my personal favorite. I remember the first time I heard Alex perform Kapustin, which was during the Rosalyn Tureck International Piano Competition in New York, where he received a special prize for a performance of contemporary work. Alexander has a clear affinity for jazz. He feels it so well, that these two Preludes felt as if they were his own solo improvisations rather than music written by someone else. I know that he studies jazz and composition and I hope that he will continue to do so. I also wish that he will feel as comfortable and free in the style of Beethoven and Chopin as he does in jazz, which I believe is only a matter of time.
The evening ended with an encore, where Alex was joined by two of his friends to perform his own composition for piano, tenor saxophone and drums. An interesting piece, jazz influenced which showed yet another side of his, as a talented composer and an ensemble player.
By Martin Labazevitch, Levine Piano Faculty