This year’s Summer Piano Institute concerts culminated on Friday, July 29 and Saturday, July 30.
On July 29, in Follinger Great Hall in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the Faculty Concert Concert featured University of Illinois piano professor Timothy Ehlen and South Korean pianist Hye-Yeon Choi as soloists.
Ian Hobson leads the Sinfonia da Camera.
A student concerto concert was held in Smith Memorial Hall on July 30.
Friday’s concert opens with a musical commemoration of Felix Mendelssohn’s visit to Scotland in 1829.
He went to the Hebridean island of Staffa, where he saw the famous “Fingal’s Cave” off the coast of the island.
This is an atmospheric and sad rendering of the “romantic” place that bears that name.
Hobson led the lower stings in the gloomy opening, and the martial echoing fans were well aware of the horns and trumpets of the Sinfonia.
The second work is “Piano Concerto in One Movement” by Florence Price, an African American composer who lived 1887-1953.
Price achieved some fame in the 1930s as a pioneering writer of symphonies for anyone of her race and gender.
But after her death, her works were largely forgotten.
However, in recent years, her fame has taken a meteoric rise.
Her music is now frequently played on the radio and appears frequently at concerts.
His first and third symphonies were recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Ehlen, a familiar performer to Champaign-Urbana audiences, gave an insightful and idiosyncratic performance of the work, which turned out to be a graceful, tuneful score.
In its 18 minutes, the work has many dramatic episodes, which contrast with quiet lyrical meditations.
The score is American above all else, with an African American tang to its rhythms and melodies.
The single movement of this work has three distinct sections, and at the end of the opening fast and outward section, the music stops for just a moment.
The slow movement, in which the piano swells without accompaniment, has a melody that evokes the vocal style of African American spirituals.
A lively, dance-filled finale reminiscent of Louis Moreau Gottschalk introduces the rhythm of the juba, a foot-tapping, hand-clapping folk dance that originated during slavery.
After a captivating performance by soloist Ehlen, supported by spirited playing by members of the Hobson-led Sinfonia, Price’s explosive finale elicited thunderous applause from the audience.
South Korean pianist Choi, soloist in Johannes Brahms’ “Piano Concerto No. 1,” is a member of the piano faculty at Seoul National University.
The 2005 performances of all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas were a highlight of his career.
In this concert, he gave an intensely dramatic reading of the Brahms Concerto.
This job is a steep mountain to climb.
Its opening orchestral introduction boldly declares, “Here is a serious and important composer.”
In the stormy and tense first movement, pianist Choi was able to match the vigorous playing of the Sinfonia players.
On the contrary, she played some of Brahms’ inner passages with a soulful intensity that foreshadowed the intimacy of his later “Intermezzi”.
After this opening, an epic movement in which Brahms stunned the audience at the first playing of the work, pianist Choi and the woodwinds and strings of the Sinfonia weave beautiful melodic strains with rhythmic effect.
A brisk finale with that
A hint of gypsy rhythms offered a charming exchange between Choi on piano and the Sinfonia led by Hobson.
This refreshing music seems to be Brahms’ gracious gift to us who attended his earlier prophetic words.
An enthusiastic audience remembered Choi and Hobson for repeated bows, ending this most enjoyable concert.
Next Sunday’s Review reports on a student concerto concert in which four talented young pianists fingered Frederic Chopin, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel and Franz Liszt.