Hyunsoon Whang has performed across the world, including at the Taos School of Music. courtesy Hyunsoon Whang

Hyunsoon Whang brings precision to Chopin piano preludes

The visiting pianist joined TU’s professor of piano studies to perform memorable compositions.

On Tuesday, Jan. 2, critically-acclaimed pianist Hyunsoon Whang performed at the Gussman Concert Hall with a heavy repertoire consisting of a set of 24 preludes and two piano duets.

The entire hall was buzzing with excitement, not really knowing what to expect, only anticipating good music from a great pianist. Dr. William Roger Price, the head of piano studies at TU, confirmed how amazing Whang really is, stating a few of her accomplishments: she received her education at the North Carolina School of the Arts as well as the Juilliard School of Music. Whang has also performed in Europe, Asia and North America as both a soloist and as a collaborator. She is currently a professor of music and McMahon Endowed Chair of Music at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.

As soon as Whang came on stage, people were ready to hear her play. She thanked everyone for coming out to see her, stating that she didn’t really like to speak before playing, but she felt like she needed to say something about the first set of pieces of the night.

The first set of piano pieces were from Frédéric Chopin’s (1810-1849) Op. 28 Collection consisting of 24 short preludes. Whang explained how each piece was written in a different key ranging from C-B, in both major and minor keys (example: one prelude in C Major, one prelude in C Minor, etc.).

She then gave the background of Chopin’s inspiration. Frédéric Chopin was analyzing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier Piano Collection, which consists of two books of preludes followed by their fugues in all 24 major and minor keys (example: No.1 Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846, No. 2 Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 847, etc.).

After talking about Chopin’s influence, she briefly discussed her thoughts about the 24 preludes. She discussed the tempo markings of the pieces, emphasizing that the compositions shouldn’t be rushed. She indicated that “slow meant slow,” and that’s how Chopin envisioned that piece, and that the marking was not a suggestion. She also mentioned that Chopin only played the preludes four pieces at a time due to certain pieces being incredibly dissonant, such as Prelude in B Minor, Op. 28, No. 6. Nevertheless, she concluded with a smile that tonight she would play them in order and to pay attention especially to Prelude No. 15 in D-Flat Major (Sostenuto), also known as the “Raindrop Prelude”.

After Whang spoke, she went straight to the piano and played with no hesitation. It was incredible to see a musician so calm and collected, knowing exactly what she wanted out of the piece. Each prelude was difficult in its own way; some in fingering and dynamics, some in articulation and flow. Despite this, Whang played effortlessly.

It was easy to get lost in the music;she wasn’t performing anymore, rather, she was living through the music. The way she responded to Chopin’s composition told an emotional story. Whang’s interpretation of the pieces was in her own voice, which above all is the most important thing a musician can do. She knew each piece inside out: she carefully attacked every note with a different mood each time, creating a different personality, but with a strong and steady fiery passion, slowly rising at the end. When Whang was done with her solo performance of the preludes, she smiled and took a much deserved bow, acknowledging that the first half was over, but the real fun was about to begin.

At the beginning of the second half of the concert, Whang was joined by Dr. Price, an accomplished pianist and composer, to end the night with piano duets. Price briefly spoke about the influence of Spain in France and how it was always said amongst musicians that French composers always wrote the best Spanish music because they were able to perceive and appreciate the culture from another point of view.

Price revisited Chopin’s Prelude in B Minor, and spoke of its background. Chopin wanted to leave France for a little while and decided to go to Spain with his lover George Sand (her real name was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin). It was thought that, because he was constantly sick,, if he went to Spain, he would be able to heal be being in a warm climate. However, when Chopin arrived, it was dreary, as if he was trading one miserable scene for another.

Chopin composed the “Raindrop Prelude” as he witnessed a funeral. He started to imagine his own funeral, as if to die twice (it’s also been indicated that there are two deaths in the piece, despite it picking it up in certain sections). This became his most well-known prelude out of the Op. 28 collection. The “Raindrop Prelude” was both acknowledged Chopin’s imagination for the sadness of death and the beauty that emerged in Spain.

The first piece Whang and Price performed was “Lindajara” for two pianos by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Throughout the piece, both pianists complemented each other, never competing to have louder dynamics or to be more dramatic. Instead Price and Whang were in sync the entire time with their intertwining melodies and harmonies, creating the sound of two hands on a piano rather than four hands on two pianos. They captured the heart of the piece as they held their own; creating a story of Spain and the beautiful music that was to be offered.

The next piece was “Danses andalouses” for two pianos by Manuel Infante (1883-1958). This time, Price and Whang switched pianos. They played again with the same fiery intensity, yet added a hint of playfulness to this composition. Price’s hands moved effortlessly across the piano, yet powerfully, taking hold of the piece and giving it an identity.

Toward the end of the concert, both performers graciously bowed to a standing ovation. It was clear the audience didn’t want the music to end. It was because both Price and Whang played from the heart and took the time to understand the music of the night and actually had it live through them. They, like the audience, embraced the music, never distancing themselves from it. That’s what makes these two pianists remarkable.

Post Author: Karelia Alexander