Saturday, May 22, 2010

Imagine a Saturday Musicale on the Lower East Side: The Artistry of Soyoung Min

Imagine a bright mid spring Saturday in New York on the Lower East Side. The sun is bright, but inviting, friendly and the air is fresh. Along East Broadway people are enjoying the day, walking, smiling, and waving to each other. Imagine coming upon a building reminiscent of Greek revival and entering into a friendly lobby, sitting with others who are waiting to go up to a private apartment where a concert of keyboard music awaits you in the splendor of a quiet afternoon with shafts of sunlight peaking through the shaded windows. Imagine a gracious host who is the husband of the artist, whose name is Jim, comes to the lobby to greet you and serve as your escort.

You are lifted up to this apartment for the afternoon musicale with large elevators on each side of the lobby, and you enter a room that has been prepared for this event, a spacious high ceiling living room with seats aligned along the north wall and to the side along the west wall that looks out over East Broadway. In the alcove created, lay the instruments that will soon speak to the occasion, a seven-and-a-half-foot harpsichord, green with gold trim, and a seven-foot concert Steinway grand with the lid fully extended. Both seemed poised for musicing.

You remove your shoes, and find your place to listen. As you settle into your seat, imagine that the artist Soyoung Min emerges from the bedroom, which almost seems as though it was planned to function as the offstage area. She is greeted with applause as she walks from the hallway into the livingroom and takes her place at the harpsichord.

She pauses. Then she touches the dual keyboard, and the strains of Frecobaldi's Toccata Settima seem to float from the instrument, tentative at first, almost as though the piece were being created on the spot in an improvised manner. The sound has an intimate though pervasive quality, extremely focused and resonant. Soyoung Min hovers on the brink of discovery and recognition, threading the exquisite linear textures with care and affection. One could imagine an inner vocalizing threading the musical line of the plucked notes as a metaphysical legato transcending the limitations of the instrument. This continues in the eloquent Tombeau fair a Paris sur la mort de Monsieur Blancheroche by Johann Jakob Froberger written in memory of his friend who died in his arms. This sensitive, polyphonic lament infuses a profound sensibility in Min's performance, spontaneous and immediate. Min concludes the harpsichord set with Rameau's Gavotte avec 6 Doubles, a fanciful romp over the keyboards that is no longer contrapuntal in the strict sense of the style, but musical lines flowing with harmonic function in imaginative permutations. There is an air of seriousness in Min's demeanor, but underneath there is a spirit of play, mischievous and spirited.

Min departs briefly while the space is transformed from an intimate drawing room to a concert stage. Even so, during this transformation, in which the lid of the harpsichord is lowered, the room resonates with the residual material of three remarkable harpsichord works brought to life for a moment on this Saturday afternoon.

Now the concert grand takes center stage. Soyoung Min is greeted with warm applause as she enters and takes her place at the piano. She begins with Chopin Impromptus, Op. 29 in A-flat, Op. 36 in F-sharp, and Op.51 in G-flat, all major keys. The works take us through an arc of development for Chopin, all have an air of improvised impetuosity, lyrical fantasies with shifting moods and endless melodic imagination that lingers in the air, overlapping with a wondrous presence. Min plays all three in a seamless connection revealing a magical affinity of the works.

The Impromptus serve as the gateway to Chopin's epic Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op.35, an almost iconic work that forms the centerpiece of this afternoon's performance. Soyoung has a commanding presence in this work, a conviction that articulates each texture and shift in mood with resolute purpose and abandon, entering regions of repose and risking everything in a passionate plunge into the maelstrom of textures and emotions. This is a work that requires extraordinary strength and control while rushing to the precipice and holding back just in time to avoid calamity. At the same time the piece calls for a lyrical intrusion that alternates and lifts us to a new awareness. Soyoung understands this perfectly, and she crafts every note with such care and expressive power that we are swept along with her. This is an extraordinary performance, melding with the remoteness of this spring afternoon in which we are transported to a different time and place. The funeral march of the third movement is hypnotic, but also couched in a grandeur that we no longer understand or comprehend today. The sheer strength of touch and tone in the final iteration shakes us to the core.

Throughout the performance, Soyoung Min is captivated by the sound of the music. Her expression is fixed as though not to betray her emotions or give in to them, which is a luxury that we as listeners can afford. She is transported by the flow of a seamless moment to moment. Chopin's music is an emotional terrain that is challenging and poignant. Throughout his work is the ebb and flow of sexual energy that connects with the moment, and Soyoung builds on this forcefulness with vigorous intensity. One final word about the structure of the concert, it is organically conceived, moving the audience through various levels, beginning almost casually and building to the climax of the Chopin sonata, occurring almost precisely at the Golden Mean. The Sonata's climactic movement unfolds in the same ratio.

Soyoung bring us down gently with three Chopin Mazurkas that are playfully brilliant and the essence of Chopin's compositional achievemments. She concludes with Elliott Carter's, Caténaires, a pointilistic toccata-like piece that requires stamina from the performer and listener alike.

For an encore, Soyoung shares a new found love in Schubert which she celebrates with child-like wonder. Schubert's G-Flat Impromptu is liquidly eloquent, with moments of rapture connected by such lyrical lines that require exquisite shading and understanding. Soyoung Min ultimately enchants us with her persuasive love for this work, and as she remarked she could play this piece endlessly over and over, and we could also listen without end, for there is no repetition but continuous discovery.

Imagine sitting in this magical temporary concert hall on this Saturday afternoon that is dipping into evening. Imagine that the sounds still linger in the room, reluctant to leave. Imagine that for a moment you have been transformed by a deep musical experience that touches the essence of who and what we are as a species. Imagine that such moments are rare and are to be celebrated and treasured.

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