2018 Advanced Piano Student Recital Review

Andrew Wu, student of Irena Orlov: Saturday, June 8, 2018, Levine Music Kunen Hall

By Martin Labazevitch, Levine Piano Faculty


Waiting at the Kunen Recital Hall, in anticipation for Andrew Wu’s Advanced Recital on an early June evening, was an experience in itself. Rarely do I have so many thoughts and emotions going through my head before a concert. Also, very seldom do I have a chance to listen to a student, whom I’ve known for quite some time, whom I had a pleasure of working with, whose teacher, one of the greatest pedagogues and artistic souls I’ve had a privilege of knowing, had passed away tragically, barely a month before Andrew’s most important recital of the year. My head was full of thoughts, recollections and yes, worries. Knowing how every student of Irena Orlov was devoted and connected to her on a highly personal level, I wasn’t sure if Andrew will be able to push it through and be at his best. However, as I was sitting and waiting in an almost empty and half dark hall, something magical started to happen. As the recital time was approaching, the hall, all of the sudden transformed into a room packed to capacity with friends and family, with smiling and cheerful faces, who gathered there only for one reason – to support Andrew. Right then and there I knew, that it is going to be a very special event.

Andrew started very confidently with Capriccio in B flat major by J.S. Bach. A seldom performed composition that sounded so fresh and convincing under Andrew’s fingers. From the first notes, one could feel the high level of musical involvement. All the ornaments were very polished, tasteful and stylistically beautifully executed. At times I wished for more “keyboard approach” to his playing, because the excessive use of the sustained pedal made the piece sound more as a piano transcription by Liszt or Busoni rather than Bach’s original composition, but my critique is rather personal and has a lot to do with my preferences.

The rather obscure Bach composition was followed by a wonderful performance of one of the most famous Beethoven sonatas, Sonata Op.81a, titled “Les Adieux” (The Farewell Sonata). I don’t know what was going through Andrew’s mind during the performance, but I could not help thinking, what a wonderful tribute, to his late teacher.

If his way of playing Bach lacked a bit of “keyboard approach,” his Beethoven missed the orchestral element. This middle-period sonata, calls for more symphonic approach and “heroic character.” It was written only a few years after his Third Symphony and around the time of his Fifth Piano Concerto. All share the same key of E flat major and they all resemble each other in so many ways. I wish Andrew discovered that side of the sonata as well. However, his performance was very polished, especially the third movement where all the “sticky” places came out beautifully. Andrew put a lot of passion and conviction in his performance and I recall an audience member, who was sitting in front of me, simply jumped, when Andrew started the exciting third movement, so contrasting in nature to the soulful second movement, marked by Beethoven “The Absence,” which Andrew played just gorgeously.

After Beethoven, came the Chopin portion of the recital. I always feel that later Chopin compositions show the composer more as a thinker and “polyphonist” rather than youthful virtuoso par excellence. These works come rather difficult to younger students. What is usually missing, is the depth, a sense of long line and timing. Students tend to rush forward, rather than look back with retrospection. That was my reservation about Andrew’s performance of the Nocturne Op.55 No.2 and the Fantasy Op.49. Regardless of how much I enjoyed Anderew’s beautiful singing tone, sensitivity to details, especially in the Nocturne, I couldn’t help the feeling of urgency, almost as if Andrew had a very important meeting right after the recital, for which he was being late. I know that such intelligent and sensitive musician as Andrew will soon realize it and give it some thought.

Last on the program came another Nocturne, this time by a contemporary American composer Lowell Liebermann. Absolutely phenomenal composition, played with such a conviction and wide variety of touches, almost ethereal. Irena always gave her students interesting contemporary compositions, that fit them like a glove and this time was no exception.

The audience awarded Andrew with a well-deserved, long, standing ovation to which Andrew responded with a short encore by Bartok.

The evening ended with Andrew’s short speech, in which he thanked all who came to support him and helped to make this recital possible, especially Ralitza Pacheva, who had been helping him with preparation in the past, difficult month. He also expressed his thanks to the one person who could not make it to his recital, he thanked Irena for being his guiding force and his greatest inspiration over the years.