Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Joyce Yang

Okay, I admit, I'm a little biased. She's my neice, and her mother, my cousin, is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. It explains why Joyce Yang exudes self-confidence and personability whenever you spend time with her. She is wonderfully down to earth.

I remember only passing memories of her when she was younger. She was only 10 years old when I remember her plunking out at breathless speed Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca" from one of her Suzuki books at one of my cousin's home. No one thought anything of it, but if you paid attention, you could tell that even in the absence of musical maturity, her technique was clean, even and balanced. There aren't many 10 year olds that I know who have that kind of precision and delicacy in their playing. I proceeded to play the same piece right after, and though my cousin pointed out that mine definitely had more musicality than her, I was 20 years older with a music degree in hand. She would be lapping my talent in a mere 6 years.

Stardom really took off when she competed in the twelfth Van Cliburn International Competition in 2005 -- arguably the biggest music competition in the world. When it was all over, she was the youngest contestant to compete and win the Silver Medal. During the competition, she even said "I think I can beat most of them, but not the Russian." She was right. But that doesn't diminish the fact that she was clearly first place in audience preference. Since then, it seems like she is never in one place for very long. Her tour schedule is year round and makes it very difficult to nail down any personal time for herself.

I remember the first time I went to see her play in November 2006. It would be her New York debut with the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece of choice would be Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme by Puccini" and what a way to introduce herself to the city that she makes her home. The moment the piece started, the first thought I had was, "Wow, this is going to be played fast!" After the performance, chatting with Joyce, apparently the same thought went through her head as well. But Joyce rose to the occasion, and played crisp and exciting, just as the piece should be played.

Watching Joyce on stage, I realized why audiences love to see her play. There is something about the way she reaches into the music and lives in each musical moment. You can see it in her face, her gestures, her body language. You live every moment with her. And always sporting some of the most beautiful dresses, you can't take your eyes off her for even a moment. When you watch Joyce play Rachmaninoff, you live with Rachmaninoff for that time.

When I heard she had learned my favorite concerto of all time, Rachmaninoff's 3rd in D Minor, I was jumping for joy. But I don't think I'll get to hear her play it live anytime soon, so the YouTube clips from the Sydney Opera House a year ago will have to do for me.

I remember staying at her Manhatten apartment with a friend during a trip to New York. I almost didn't dare touch that beautiful Steinway piano filling half of her living room (almost!). She did take a moment to grace us with an excerpt of a Schumann piece she was learning. I asked her once, "Can your neighbors hear you? Do they ever say anything about the noise when you practice?" She said, "They've never complained to me." I suppose not. Having a world-famous pianist practice in your apartment complex, you might as well save yourself money on iTunes. You're getting the best right through your walls!

Click here for reviews on Joyce Yang.

Click here for a sampling of her available music on iTunes. Don't miss her interpretation of Liebermann's "Gargoyles" on her debut album Collage. Or if that is too modern for you, check out the riviting Sonata in D Minor, K 141 by Scarlatti and any of her Cliburn performances.

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