Young Artists: Thrills of Discovery

By Harris Goldsmith

Our indefatigable concertgoer has heard hundreds of budding musicians since his last MA report and tells us now of several more thrilling young artists whose legends have already commenced.

Twice before, in 2004 and 2008, I’ve written in Musical America’s Directory about promising young artists I’ve had the pleasure to hear perform. It’s been particularly gratifying to watch many of these young artists become leaders of their generation. Two of the artists herein have matured on the concert stage since my last installment, and I include them because they are too notable to omit: Janine Jansen and Yuja Wang, who already have major recording contracts. One might even say that they’ve arrived. Join me in watching the careers of these other thrilling artists whose legends have commenced. We’ll be hearing a lot from them in the future!

Stephanie and Saar, piano duo
Pianists Saar Ahuvia, an Israeli, and his wife, Stephanie Ho, formed their ensemble at Peabody Conservatory when they were in the studio of Julian Martin. They have been garnering high praise, stateside and in Europe, since 2005. As a fourhand duo and a two-piano team they performed the complete Messiaen Visions de l’Amen at Johns Hopkins University and Martinů’s Concerto for Two Pianos in the Czech Republic. Their wide-ranging repertoire and intellectual curiosity is extraordinary—ranging from Gesualdo and Bach (I heard them play Chorale Preludes in György Kurtág’s transcriptions at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge); Mozart (Sonata K. 521); Crumb’s Celestial Mechanics; Beethoven String Quartets arranged for piano duo; and even four-hand transcriptions of solo recordings by jazz great Bill Evans. Their calling card CD, “Visions,” includes works by Messiaen, Debussy (arr. Ravel), Schubert, Janáček, and Stravinsky.

Nareh Arghamanyan, piano
Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan won the 2008 Montreal International Music Competition. At her March 2010 concert at Rockefeller University, I discovered that virtually every pianophile in New York had heard the “buzz.” Add my name to her snowballing list of admirers. This was one of the most remarkable concerts I have heard from an unheralded young artist. Three Scarlatti Sonatas [Kirkpatrick 9, 23, and 141] had elegance, humor, deliciously burbling trills, and fiery imagination (the repeated notes in K. 141 verged on the pluperfect). Schumann’s Humoreske was the most engrossing, passionately exciting interpretation I have ever encountered. Rachmaninoff’s first set of Etudes-tableaux, Op. 33, had the rhythmic vitality and authority of the great pianist-composer himself (it was that good!). Arghamanyan’s exquisite encore account of a Marcello/Bach Adagio again proved that her quiet lyricism was as magical as her powerhouse pyrotechnics.

Ran Dank, piano
Ran Dank, born in 1982, received his Bachelor degree from Tel Aviv’s Rubin Academy (studying with Emanuel Krassovsky) and his Masters and Artist diplomas at Juilliard (where his teachers were Emanuel Ax, Joseph Kalichstein, and Robert McDonald). He is remarkably consistent pianistically and refreshingly versatile and adventurous stylistically. His Bach (C-Minor French Suite) and Beethoven Sonata Op. 27, No. 1) showed an acute grasp of polyphony and stringent classicism. His way with 20th-century music is equally on target: At one Zankel Hall concert he offered several Boulez Notations (vintage 1945); at another he triumphed in Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9 (“Black Mass”) and the most arrow-straight, plunging Prokofiev Sixth Sonata I’ve heard since Richter’s legendary 1960 Carnegie Hall performance. He can be a heart-on-sleeve Romantic too, playing Chopin Waltzes and Mazurkas with sophistication and elegance. Granados’s La Maja el Ruiseñor, as well, had seductive, gentle intimacy.

Janine Jansen, violin
Violinist Janine Jansen gave her Concertgebouw debut in 1997 and is hugely popular, particularly in her native Holland. But two of her early recordings—an agreeably stylish Vivaldi Four Seasons and a solidly conventional Bruch/Mendelssohn Concerto coupling in their umpteenth versions—left me a bit underwhelmed. It gives me great satisfaction to report that her recent Beethoven and Britten pairing is a substantial, even drastic, advance. The Beethoven (Kreisler cadenzas) is eloquently interpreted and magnificently supported by Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (it sounds like a large ensemble, and the “rightness” of tempo, balance, and accentuation made me think of Toscanini’s famous recording). The Britten, likewise a bona fide, albeit neglected, masterpiece, is a surprising but apt discmate, again splendidly partnered by Järvi (this time with the London Symphony). I enthusiastically welcome Jansen, now 32 (born January 7, 1978), as a gratifyingly seasoned and mature artist.

Moran Katz, clarinet
Moran Katz, an Israeli, studied at Juilliard with Charles Neidich and Ayako Oshima. She won the Freiburg International Clarinet Competition in 2009 and has played solo recitals, concertos with orchestra, and chamber music in Tokyo, Paris, Switzerland, Mongolia, and Baden-Baden, as well as at the Marlboro Festival and Lincoln Center. A passionate devotee of contemporary fare, she was part of the New Juilliard Ensemble, Continuum, the 2005 and 2006 Focus festivals, MoMA’s Summergarden series, and even with the jazz ensemble of pianist Uri Caine. Katz plays everything beautifully and idiomatically. With her magnificent color, agility, and breath control, she is magically persuasive in the early Romantics. Copland’s 1940 Sonata couldn’t have sounded more authentic, and Elliott Carter’s humorous solo tidbit GRA (Polish for “Play,” written for Lutosławski’s 80th birthday in 1993) was brilliantly, mischievously dispatched. And she dazzled and beguiled in Artie Shaw’s Clarinet Concerto!

Old City String Quartet
The “old city” is Philadelphia. Violinists Bryan Lee and Joel Link, violist Milena Pajoro-van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw, all students at the Curtis Institute, formed their ensemble in 2008. They were awarded second prize at the 2009 Young Concert Artists International Competition, and Gold Medalist and Grand Prize Winner at the 2010 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. And they have already recorded quartets by Mendelssohn and Debussy on a CD just released last spring by the audiophile label, Unipheye Music. The Quartet’s debut at Rockefeller University last October began with a poised, beautifully balanced account of Ravel’s Quartet in F—astonishing coming from such youthful musicians, and even more so when one realized that this miraculous performance was the group’s first! Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, with Moran Katz (serendipitously featured in this same article devoted to young artists) likewise continued the same perfection and elegance. All five protagonists shone as magnificent presences, and Katz’s subtle, unobtrusive embellishments were a joy.

Yuja Wang, piano
At age 17, Yuja Wang played an astonishingly mature and technically finished interpretation of Schubert’s late CMinor Sonata, D. 958, in Weill Hall on April 12, 2004. And—from the sublime to the ridiculous—at a Rockefeller University recital on February 2, 2007, she tossed off an unexpected encore, Arcadi Volodos’s indulgent paraphrase of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. Volodos had given her the music
only a week earlier. “It’s not so hard,” she shrugged. Most important is Wang’s self-proclaimed ideal: “For me, conveying the music through the piano is more important than the instrument itself. The music is what interests and intrigues me.”  After substituting for several of the most celebrated pianists Argerich, Perahia, and Lupu, to name a few), Wang at 23 has amassed a repertoire of by now over 35 concertos and has two spectacularly successful recordings for Deutsche Grammophon to her credit. What particularly endears me to her playing is the inviting warmth and touching vulnerability in tandem with her fiery brilliance. •

For five decades, pianist Harris Goldsmith has been recognized as one of America’s most distinguished music critics. He currently teaches at Mannes College The New School for Music in New York City. His two-CD set of Beethoven piano music recordings is available on Brilliant Classics, and his recordings of works by Brahms and Schumann will soon be released on Music & Arts.


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