November 4, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Internationally recognized as the star of Google’s 2016 Grammys Android commercial in which he performs Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on two pianos, Ji began playing the piano at the age of five. At age 10, he was the youngest pianist to win the New York Philharmonic’s Young Artists Competition. He graduated from Juilliard where he studied with Yoheved Kaplinsky.
In 2012 he won Young Concert Artists International Auditions and debuted at Merkin Concert Hall and the Kennedy Center to rave reviews.
Well-known in Korea, Ji performed the country’s first outdoor classical concert as soloist with the BBC Symphony and performed in Seoul with world-renowned ballerina, Sue Jin Kang and dancers from the Stuttgart Ballet. Ji’s creative vision to make classical music accessible to young people led to his “Stop & Listen” outdoor “guerrilla” performances in 2010, during which he worked with renowned Korean pop-artist Tae Jung Kim to design the “Ji-T” piano, bringing classical music to the public on the busy streets of Seoul.
He has recorded two CDs: Bach Exhibition on the Credia label, and Lisztomania with Credia/Universal Music.
Chicago Tribune hails him as “a gifted young pianist who is clearly going places,” Ji has been praised from a young age for his compelling musical presence and impressive technical command.
In his November 3 and 4 concerts Ji brings us a program of astounding breadth and range–from the architectonic perfection of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the stately reverence of two of the master’s most famous chorale preludes (transcribed by Busoni), to the mad swirling of Ravel’s impressionistic La valse and the quintessential Romanticism of Chopin’s Andante spianato and its martial second half, the grande polonaise. Ji concludes with one of the most astonishing couplings imaginable–the goosebump-inducing longing and melancholy of “Le mals du pays” (Homesickness) from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, followed by and concluding with the lovely and melodic simplicity of the Arabeske of Schumann.
The Goldberg Variations consists of an aria and 30 variations written for two-manual harpsichord; the set was first published ca. 1741 as part of Bach’s Clavierübung, Book IV. The Variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been their first performer.
After a statement of the aria, 30 variations follow, after which Bach wrote “Aria da Capo è Fine,” meaning return to the beginning (“da capo”) and play the aria again before concluding. The variations follow the aria’s bass line and harmonic progressions rather than its melody. Every third variation is a canon, following an ascending pattern. Thus, variation 3 is a canon at the unison, variation 6 is a canon at the second (the second entry begins a second above the first), variation 9 is a canon at the third, and so on until variation 27, which is a canon at the ninth. The final variation, instead of being the expected canon at the tenth, is a quodlibet (a composition that combines several different melodies—usually popular tunes—in counterpoint, and often in a light-hearted, humorous manner).
The variations between the canons also follow a pattern. The variations that occur just after each canon are genre pieces of various types: three Baroque dances (4, 7, 19); a fughetta (10); a French overture (16); two ornate arias (13, 25); a four-part fugue with a ground bass (22); and a toccata (28). The variations just after each of the genre pieces (thus 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, and 29) are “arabesques,” i.e., variations in lively tempo that feature a great deal of hand-crossing when played on a one-manual instrument, such as the piano. This pattern—canon, genre piece, arabesque—is repeated nine times, until the Quodlibet, variation 30, breaks the cycle. (Adapted from Wikipedia)
Ferrucio Busoni transcribed for piano the chorale prelude for organ, Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland (“Now come, Savior of the gentiles”), which Bach composed in 1711–13 during his tenure as court organist and director of music in Weimar (1708–1717). The Duke of Weimar was a devout Lutheran and music lover; he extensively improved and enlarged the chapel organ for Bach, who composed most of his organ works while resident in Weimar. Bach’s chorale prelude is scored for pedal and two keyboards. Busoni’s transcription doubles the pedal at the octave, and compresses the other two voices, distributing them between the two hands, with the ornamented soprano line following the original hymn melody fairly closely. Busoni published his transcription of the work in 1898 in his collection Ten Chorale Preludes.
Maurice Ravel’s La valse (“The Waltz”) is a choreographic poem for orchestra that has enchanted its way onto many programs since its first performance in 1920. For several years, Ravel had planned a tribute to waltzing Vienna and Johann Strauss, but after the horrors of WWI he instead composed a terrifying tone poem, a bitter and ferocious fantasy. Ravel also transcribed the work for two pianos and for piano solo in the same year. The innovative introduction gives no indication of a waltz—a low rumble starts the piece as excerpts of waltz melodies are barely heard. Suddenly, the main waltz theme bursts through, followed by waltzes that vary in style. A loud trill and return to the introduction brings the audience into the second half. Each of the melodies is repeated, but with tempo changes, modulations, and new intonations. Wide, sweeping movements of the pianist’s arms cast a glorious effect over the classic waltzes and lead to a danse macabre coda with a final measure, perhaps symbolically, not in waltz time.
“Wachet auf,” known widely as “Sleepers Awake,” is one of Bach’s most famous and best-loved works. Bach took the melody from his own cantata of the same name, written in 1731; the melody originates in a late 16th-century Lutheran hymn. Busoni, who published transcriptions of Bach’s works over a period of 30 years, regarded piano studies of Bach’s works as essential to the pianist. Arthur Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, wrote of Busoni: ‘’He was . . . a man with a broad view, both artistically and culturally, a genuinely great human being.’’ He called Busoni ‘’a shining example to all musicians for the noble way in which he pursued his career so uncompromisingly, for the high standards he set for his own compositions and for his general culture, so rare among artists.
Composed between 1830 and 1831, the Grande polonaise brillante in E-flat Major was initially written for piano and orchestra. In 1834, Chopin wrote the Andante spianato in G Major for solo piano, and in 1836 joined the two works together with a short martial interlude. Chopin’s emphasis on the piano writing allows a solo piano performance of the combined work. The Andante is quiet, melodic, and nocturne-like, drawing its listeners into a dream-like state before the Polonaise interjects. The Polonaise is marked forte and espressivo, and almost demands that the pianist deploy every virtuosic talent he or she possesses. It is a show-stopping piece, and the ending coda brings the work to a dazzling close.
Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) is a set of three suites for solo piano that convey the impressions and emotions that Liszt felt as he travelled through Europe with the Countess d’Agoult in the mid-1830s. Much of Années derives from Liszt’s earlier work, Album d’un voyageur. Le mal du pays is from Book I, Switzerland. Liszt prefaced the work with a lengthy epigraph from Sénancour that depicts wild mountain ravines, distant alpine lakes, and the sound of cows being called and returning peacefully to pasture. It features passages of deep melancholy juxtaposed with passages of great exaltation. The work is featured in Haruki Murakami’s novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which explores the meanings of home and belonging. The music is full of strangeness, disjointedness, and mysteriousness, which Murakami conveys, matching the work’s novel spirit, eerie chromaticism, insistent repetition, and austerity.
4’33’’ (“Four-minutes, thirty-three seconds”) is a three-movement work composed in 1952 for any instrument or combination of instruments. The piece’s title refers to the total duration of the work in minutes and seconds. The score instructs the performers not to play their instruments at all! Thus the piece consists of the sounds of the environment that listeners hear while it is performed. 4’33” became for Cage the epitome of his idea that any sounds may constitute music. It also reflects the influence of Zen Buddhism, which Cage had studied since the late 1940s. 4’33” remains Cage’s most controversial work, challenging the definition of music. Cage believed that duration is a fundamental building block of music and that a work of music is defined not only by its content but also by the behavior it elicits from the audience.
Arabeske was written in 1839 when Schumann had left Leipzig for Vienna because his piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, had rejected his efforts to marry his daughter, Clara, with whom Robert had been in love since 1834. Despite this setback, Clara become Schumann’s wife in 1840; in her own right, she had been a composer since her youngest years, and became increasingly famous both as a pianist and later as a teacher. Geographically separated from Clara, Schumann could communicate with her only through his music. This difficult separation has been proposed as an explanation for the work’s alternation of wistful passages and more robust episodes. The piece moves between contrasting moods, and seems to conclude with a gentle recapitulation of the opening material. The poignant postlude that follows comes as an exquisite surprise.