2024 Advanced Piano Student Recital

Robert Foster, Student of Mikhail Volochok

Robert Foster review
By Dr. Melinda Baird, Levine Piano Faculty

Robert T. Foster played to an enthusiastic full house of supporters who showed up to hear his musical achievements on Friday evening in the Lang Recital Hall. As a student of Levine, Robert is a shining star, after completing ten levels of the Piano Department, and has graduated with Distinction. His teacher, Mikhail Volchok, introduced Robert with great pleasure, clearly proud of his students’ accomplishments, but also mindful of the many Levine teachers who have contributed to Robert’s success. The presence of his first and foundational pedagogue, Ted Cooper, was felt by all, although Mr. Cooper witnessed the concert from his new home in Vienna, Austria. Robert was clearly in his element, as he shed his jacket and talked comfortably with the audience—introducing each piece as if it were an old friend.

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Robert began the concert with Bach: confident, sunny and direct, yet nuanced and sensitive, and never harsh. The influence and expertise of his teacher Mr. Volchok was clear, as he navigated with artistic articulation through the complexities of both the A Major and B flat minor fugues. Yet they were personal, and Robert’s deep sensitivity became apparent as he leaned into the final resolution with a satisfying gravity. The Debussy, Robert explained, was the impudent Puck, playing tricks. Robert’s keyboard tricks were sprightly, impish, and spontaneous, like a pesky brother who catches us by surprise with his teasing, then feigns innocence. Robert’s playing was as clear and exact as Debussy’s fastidiousness itself, yet full of color and life. Robert concluded the first half with a movement of Schoenberg’s Op.33a, leading us through the tone row as if it were a map to something novel, yet strangely familiar.

For the second half of the program, Robert treated his audience to Robert Schumann’s second sonata, reminding us of the dedication “To Clara from Florestan and Eusebius” (Schumann’s two alter-egos). Both personalities were present: from the fiery, relentless Florestan in the tumultuousness of the first movement, to the Eusabian soaring melodies in the aria of the second movement. Robert moved seamlessly through the flippant scherzo with its light, airy Mendelssohnian finger action, to the grand finale. He exhibited no signs of exhaustion even after leading his audience through such wild emotional extremes. Robert was still passionate and energetic as he wove Florestan and Eusebius together in a declaration of love coupled with poetic reflection; the magic and majesty of Schumann.

Robert’s audience leapt to their feet in a well-deserved standing ovation. A testament to his development, dedication, and great musical depth.

William Wu, Student of Marina Alekseyeva

Robert Foster review
By Dr. Minji Kim, Levine Piano Faculty

This past year has been a whirlwind of new experiences for me. Since moving to a new state and joining the faculty at Levine, I’ve been consistently impressed by the caliber of student performances at juries and recitals. So when I received an invitation to William Wu’s Advanced Piano Student Recital at Lang Recital Hall on Friday, June 7, I was thrilled. Still, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an hour-long recital by a 15-year-old, as such a program is challenging even for professionally trained adult pianists. However, I left the recital brimming with joy, inspiration, and appreciation for the beautiful teacher-student relationship I witnessed.

William’s program opened boldly with Beethoven’s Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2, “Tempest.” This work highlighted his scholarly approach and patience as a young pianist. The first movement was full of youthful energy, reminiscent of Beethoven’s own vigor. Each phrase was meticulously shaped, with a warm sound and well-timed pauses between contrasting sections, allowing listeners to follow the structure easily. While there were moments of slight struggle, William’s performance in later movements proved he was merely warming up.

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The Adagio movement showcased beautiful legato, emphasizing serenity with just enough animation. In the finale, often played too hastily by many pianists, William maintained a steady, patient tempo throughout. The balance between hands was spectacular, with pedaling and voicing carefully tailored to the hall’s acoustics. Each harmony was imbued with a variety of colors and timbres.

William’s Beethoven performance demonstrated his thorough understanding of the piece’s intricacies. His controlled yet tempestuous rendition was admirable. While William’s playing was impressive, I look forward to hearing how his approach might evolve as he continues to explore the emotional depths of this work. Beethoven was experiencing a very difficult time when he wrote this piece, with his hearing deteriorating rapidly. He even penned the famous “Heiligenstadt Testament,” a heartrending letter to his brothers about his condition. In ten years, I’d be curious to hear William’s interpretation of this sonata again, perhaps infused with more of the pain, agony, and wandering of mind that Beethoven might have felt during composition.

The recital only improved from there. If Beethoven showcased William’s scholarly side, the rest of the program allowed him to soar freely, revealing a more expressive and uninhibited style. Both Chopin Waltzes were thrilling and exhilarating, filled with tasteful rubato, impeccably clean scales, and a rich, velvety sound. The Waltz in F Major, Op. 34 No. 3 surprised with its sparkling tone, while the Ab Major Waltz, Op. 42 revealed a stormy, almost heroic side of Chopin’s writing.

Schumann’s “Abegg” Variations, Op. 1, a notoriously difficult piece, saw William fully immersed in the music. Unlike the cascading pearls of Chopin’s scales and arpeggios, he effectively used a variety of colors to bring out distinct characters in each variation. His sensitive use of rubato added wit to the performance. Notably, he adjusted pacing and listened carefully during technically challenging passages instead of rushing – a trait typically expected from more experienced performers.

The program concluded with Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2. The second movement, Danza de la moza donosa (“Dance of the Graceful Girl”), was particularly captivating and, for me, the highlight of the evening. Beginning with an incredibly intimate tone, the voicing throughout was exceptional, with each layer distinctly audible. The modern harmonies were rendered with marvelous color and texture, evoking a vintage film’s hazy, romantic nostalgia. 

The final Danza del gaucho matrero (“Dance of the Outlaw Cowboy”) was no less impressive. William’s patient tempo built excitement gradually, starting with a steady pulse that accumulated energy like a pressure cooker. This culminated in a thrilling explosion of glissandi and fortissississimo chords that had the audience leaping to their feet in a standing ovation.

Beyond the performance itself, I was struck by the dedication of William’s family and teacher. His parents and brother, Andrew Wu (who also performed in the advanced student recitals a few years ago), were present, offering support in every aspect. It was especially touching to see William’s teacher, Marina Alekseyeva, helping him prepare, encouraging him to listen carefully to his sound in the hall. The short speech William gave at the end of the recital, expressing gratitude to his teacher, was deeply moving and brought tears to my eyes.

In conclusion, this recital was a testament to the power of dedication, family support, and effective mentorship in nurturing young musical talent. It was a privilege to witness not only an outstanding performance but also the beautiful exchange between a gifted student and his devoted teacher. I left the hall fully charged with inspiration, a renewed love for music, and a deep appreciation for the journey of young musicians. William’s recital wasn’t just a display of technical prowess; it was a reminder of the profound emotional connections that music can forge between performer and the audience.