Pianist Joyce Yang performs at Winter Music Recital | AspenTimes.com

Pianist Joyce Yang performs at Winter Music Recital

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times

Soft spoken passages meet fast-paced, intense preludes as pianist Joyce Yang takes audiences on a musical and emotional journey March 16 at Harris Concert Hall.

As part of the Aspen Music Festival and School’s Winter Music Recital Series March 16, she presents selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Les saisons,” op. 37b; Rachmaninoff’s “Thirteen Preludes,” op. 32; and Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite.”

“The entire program starts in a soft spoken, innocent place of playfulness and beauty and progresses into something dramatic and extroverted,” she said. “All three pieces are from the Romantic period, where I feel most comfortable and where I’m able to communicate the best.”

Her performance consists of “15 short pieces,” with six movements from Tchaikovsky, six preludes from Rachmaninoff, and three movements of “The Firebird.”

“Les saisons” begins fairy tale-like, with a lyrical and simple melody.

“I enter the concert quite gently, in a way,” Yang said. “These pieces are like small poems that are full of imagination and storytelling in my mind, dedicated to the changing months of the year.”

Joyce Yang will perform at Harris Hall March 16.

She described selections from Rachmaninoff’s “Thirteen Preludes” as a challenging, high-intensity workout, where she plays as fast as possible, then transitions to more of a hushed tone before returning to “total drama.”

“It’s a shocking back and forth,” she said. “They have incredible personalities. They’re all very contrasting, and you kind of have to put your seat belt on because there will be jagged turns and surprises, and within the heights of the passion and drama, there comes sudden serene moments that are so quiet and beautiful, it has the ability to stop time.”

Once she’s “warmed up,” Yang launches into the height of the evening’s drama with Stravinsky’s first ballet, “The Firebird,” transposed to a piano solo.

“All hell breaks loose with the beginning of ‘The Firebird.’ It’s one of the most intense, most difficult things I’ve come across. It’s like climbing Mt. Everest in a way,” she says. “Even though it starts big, the excitement will be palpable throughout. It goes on a great adventure then changes mood to eerie, creepily quiet, and then the tension breaks for the finale. We just spiral toward this glorious end of ‘The Firebird.’”

Yang has an incredible way of communicating naturally with the audience. She credits her comfort on stage and love of performing to when she was 5 years old, and her aunt and then-piano teacher set up house concerts for family and friends.

“She believed I had to be a communicator on stage from an early age, and that set the tone,” Yang said. “It was a very organic and natural process for me to start performing. Stage fright never occurred. I enjoy performing. It’s a space where I can really express myself in the truest form, so I can instantly feel grateful when I welcome the audience to my home — that’s how I feel when I walk onto stage. It’s a very personal thing, a very vulnerable thing, and I tell myself to really give them my heart. I try to do whatever I can to really communicate the meaning behind why I do what I do. The performance is about the magic of music.”

Joyce Yang will perform on March 16 at Harris Hall.

Yet, as comfortable as the stage feels, she recognizes the high standard of excellence Aspen Music Festival and School audiences expect.

“It’s a very welcoming stage but a very serious and professional one, so I know I have to be at my very best,” she said.

Yang first came to the Aspen Music Festival and School as a student at age 18, when she witnessed “some truly remarkable concerts that really moved me,” she said.

“She was a sensational talent — everyone loved her,” said President and CEO Alan Fletcher. “Even as a teenager, we had so much faith in her. She has superior ability, a huge repertoire, and excels in everything — but more important, Joyce communicates with the audience in such a magical way, and you just know that she loves making music, and she loves being on stage, and the audience appreciates that.”

Aspen Music Festival and School invited her to return in 2005 when she earned acclaim as the Cliburn silver medalist, and she has performed every year since (save for the pandemic).

“I have made so many friends — it feels like I’m performing for family and friends,” Yang said.

“Over the years, I have gotten to know Joyce, so I know it is all real. That feeling of happiness she has on stage is completely genuine. She listens so intensely to everyone. As a soloist, it’s as if she’s playing chamber music with the audience. She looks at the audience and communicates with the audience,” Fletcher said. “As many times as one hears Joyce, the next one is always the best.”

If you go…

What: Winter Music Recital Series: Joyce Yang, Pian
When: 6:30 p.m. March 16
Where: Harris Concert Hall
Tickets: $45 and $75
More info: aspenmusicfestival.com

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