Young Artists: More Thrills of Discovery

By Harris Goldsmith

Perhaps the most heartwarming part of almost half a century as a music critic has been to extend a helping hand to young, up-and-coming talents, many of whom long ago joined the music world's "establishment." Four years ago in this space I took note of several young artists who have gone on to fame ... if not always fortune. Another batch of deserving hopefuls has now joined the melee. My selection is based on attending debuts, recitals, and school concerts, listening to recordings, and keeping my ears open to new possibilities. Inevitably, space precluded many promising talents from this roster.

I must take note of an enormous happenstance since the demise of Tower Records and other such emporiums around our globe. The major labels, as well as smaller independents, continue to churn out new releases. But even so, more and more enterprising artists are making their own compact discs and selling them by way of the Internet. Many of these 'calling cards' have been expertly produced and deserve to be treated as seriously as those from the majors.

Alison Balsom, trumpet
We serendipitously begin this alphabetical processional with a trumpet volun tary. Alison Balsom was named Best Young British Performer at the 2006 Clas sical Brit Awards and honored with a Classic FM Listeners Award in the September 2006 Gramophone. The comely blonde musician was born in 1979, studied at the Guildhall School of Music, the Paris Conservatoire, and with Häken Hardenberger. She has three CDs on EMI Classics to her credit; her latest release, "Caprice," reveals a virtuosa of astonishing brilliance (in the audacious, forward-thrusting way one would expect from her clarion instrument). Even more significantly, we hear an artist blessed with wonderful lyricism and subtle emotional charisma. As a Mozartean she effortlessly negotiates the running passagework in the Rondo alla turca as dazzlingly as any pianist; and the poise and accuracy of the treacherous Queen of the Night aria (from Die Zauberflöte) would make any coloratura soprano green with envy. This marvelous CD also contains Falla's 7 Popular Spanish Songs (orches trated by Berio), a ravishing account of Bellini's "Casta Diva," and Rachmaninoff's Vocalise "sung" with beautiful curvaceous line and lush Slavic color.

Daedalus String Quartet
Only a year after its formation, the Daedalus Quartet won the Grand Prize of the 2001 Banff International String Quartet Competition. This foursome--whose members are brother and sister Kyu-Young and Min-Young Kim (who alternate on first violin), Jessica Thomp son (violist), and Raman Ramakrishnan (cellist)--participated in Carnegie Hall's ECHO (European Concert Hall Organization) Rising Stars program. Debut concerts followed during the 2004-05 season in Amsterdam, Athens, Paris, Salzburg, Vienna, and New York. Appointed to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two for 2005-06 and 2006-07, the ensemble has been Columbia University's quartet-in-residence since 2005. The group's perfect intonation, lustrous tone, and brilliantly perceptive interpretations emerge magnificently on a recent Bridge CD of quartets by Sibelius ("Intimate Voices"), Stravinsky (Three Pieces), and Ravel. Equally memorable, too, was the Daedalus version of Beethoven's Op. 132 at a recent Tully Hall concert.

Sol Gabetta, cello
Sol Gabetta, 26, has a cosmopolitan ancestry and educational background. She was born in Córdoba, Argentina, into a Franco-Russian family. After winning her first competition at age 10, the precocious cellist studied in Berlin with David Geringas at the Musikhochschule Hanns Eisler. Further studies were with Ivan Monighetti at the Escuela Superior de Musica Rejna Sofia in Madrid and the Musikakademie in Basel. Having concertized extensively as a recitalist and with orchestras in France, Switzerland, St. Petersburg, Munich, and Vienna, Gabetta is a dedicated ensemble player who has participated in Gidon Kremer's "les muséiques" festival in Basel several times and will  present her own chamber-music festival in nearby Olsberg. North America, I daresay, will be hearing her imminently. Her splendid CD for RCA with the Munich Radio Orchestra contains irresistibly communicative accounts of four Tchaikovsky favorites (his Rococo Variations, Pezzo Capriccioso, Nocturne, and Andante Cantabile), Saint-Saëns's Concerto No. 1, and Ginastera's Second Pampeana Rhapsody, played with requisite explosive bravura. No young artist could hope for a better introduction.

Soyeon Lee, piano
Soyeon Lee, 28, has played impressively several times at Rockefeller University's Caspary Auditorium. She had already made her New York debut at Alice Tully Hall as the recipient of the Juilliard School's prestigious William Petschek Award. Having likewise won the 2004 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, the pianist also garnered honors at the Paloma O'Shea Santander (Bronze Medal) and Cleveland International competitions (both the Second Prize and the Mozart Prize at the latter). A demo CD distributed by Concert Artists Guild is notable for a swashbuckling solo of Ravel's La Valse replete with blistering glissandi and a magnetic vortex. But pride of place, in my opinion, must go to an exquisitely patrician, vigorous, and supremely imaginative collection of 13 Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, recently released by Naxos. Interestingly, Soyeon's sister Soeun shines in a different galaxy as one of South Korea's biggest pop stars. The two young women still have a fond dream of someday, somehow, appearing in concert on the same stage.

Bracha Malkin, violin
In his book Violin Virtuosos from Paganini to the 21st Century, Henry Roth listed the then teen-aged Bracha Malkin among "the gifted...who are at the vanguard leading the march of violin art into the 21st century." Paradoxically, the Israeli-born Malkin is an intriguing throwback stylistically: Her training is redolent of the oldfashioned Romantic school (she was taught by her father, who is a relative of one of Heifetz's first teachers). Other mentors include Boris Belkin, Miriam Fried, and Aaron Rosand, all of them aesthetic descendents of Russian fiddling. What makes Malkin so interesting is the unpredictable versatility of her interpretive style(s). On the one hand, she can master the objective virtuoso writing of Berio's Sequenza VIII; on the other, two performances of Kreisler's Caprice Viennoise were played with so much fleetness, flexibility, and charm, I almost thought that Kreisler himself had returned to our midst! A recital performance of Richard Strauss's Sonata in 2004 was reminiscent of the old Heifetz recording. But her new recording, available on her Web site (, of the selfsame work is vastly different from what my memory tells me--this time more expansive, with a wide vibrato that recalls Oistrakh or Elman. Also on this CD are fervent renderings of Bloch's Poème mystique and Ravel's Sonata, Op. Posth.

Dudana Mazmanishvili, piano
Dudana Mazmanishvili, 27, comes from Tbilsi, Georgia. Tamar Apakidze, her mother and also herself a very serious and talented pianist, taught her from age 3 to 17. In 1998, Dudana moved to Munich to study with the renowned Elisso Virsaladze (a fellow Georgian) at the Hochschule für Musik und Theatre for almost seven years. She has just graduated from New York's Mannes College of Music, where she worked with the American pianist Jerome Rose (whose teacher was Leonard Shure, Artur Schnabel's disciple and assistant). During her stay in this country she won the 2005 Washington International Piano Competition and the Nicolai Rubinstein International in Paris. She was also a recipient of the Nadia Reisenberg Memorial Award, which led to a Merkin Hall debut last November. Her superb pianism strikes a rare balance between the characteristic virtuosity and showmanship of the Russian School and the Teutonic intellectual discipline one also expects from a born-to-the-manner classicist. Her formidable "chops" and lyrical, singing tone easily measure up to the crowd-pleasing bravura of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes, Opera Paraphrases, Hungarian Rhapsodies, and knucklebreakers such as Balakirev's Islamey and the Prokofiev Toccata. Conversely, she functions easily and naturally in her favorite composer, Bach, as well as in the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, and Schubert.

Pacifica Quartet
Formed on the West Coast and then becoming fixtures in the Chicago area (with residencies at the Universities of Chicago and Illinois, and a continuing affiliation with Cedille Records), the Pacifica has amassed an extensive and hugely adventurous repertory. Currently its members are Simin Ginatra (whose father is Pakastani), Sibbie Bernhardsson (who is Icelandic), Per Masumi Rostad (who is half Japanese, half Norwegian), and Brandon Vamos (of Eastern European Jewish ancestry). One of the players once quipped in an interview, "You might say we're the quintessential American quartet." The original lineup included Kyu-Young Kim, who now plays with the Daedalus. The Pacifica seems to play just about everything idiomatically. I adore the recorded Mendelssohn cycle and a wonderful CD titled "Declarations," with Hindemith's Op. 22, Janácek's "Intimate Letters," and Ruth Crawford Seeger's Quartet, all dating from the 1920s. But the Pacifica's Elliott Carter cycle (all five of his quartets in one sitting at Columbia University's Miller Theatre in 2002!) was probably the highpoint of its career. The foursome will repeat the cycle in January 2008 at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and record it for Naxos. While the group has undoubtedly proven its devotion to American music, it would rather not be pigeonholed as specialists. "World class" would be more apt.

Baiba Skride, violin
After winning First Prize in the 2001 Queen Elisabeth Competition, Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, 26, saw her career blossom rapidly. As a concerto soloist, she has collaborated with Paavo Berglund, Herbert Blomstedt, Charles Dutoit, and Neeme and Paavo Järvi. Sony Classical recently issued Skride’s live performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, coupled with Janácek's Violin Concerto; her solo playing is beautiful, despite mediocre support, especially in the Shostakovich. But what really thrilled me was a duo recital at New York's Rockefeller University that Baiba presented with her younger sister Lauma, a magnificent pianist in her own right. The concert opened with an elegant, exquisitely balanced account of Schubert's Sonatina, D. 384, followed by Prokofiev's F-minor Sonata, reminiscent of vintage Szigeti, Copland's Violin Sonata, and an exciting Ravel Tzigane. The good news is that Baiba and Lauma have recently joined forces with Sol Gabetta. A third Skride sister, I'm told, plays viola. Perhaps the new Trio will also become a Piano Quartet.

Conrad Tao, piano
Thirteen-year old Conrad Tao, born in Urbana, Illinois, was found playing children's songs on the piano at about 18 months of age! He started violin lessons at age 3, formal piano lessons at 3 1/2, and gave his first public piano recital at 4. He is, if you can believe, also a prolific composer who has won national prizes since age 7. I had my first experience with this genius (I use that word ad visedly) at a Rockefeller University concert. He gave virtually flawless performances of Beethoven's Sonata, Op. 2, No. 3, Chopin's Third Ballade, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11, Lowell Liebermann's Gargoyles, York Bowen's Toccata, and his own Silhouettes and Shadows, which won the BMI Carlos Surinach Prize. Tao was 10 when he wrote it. I heard this recital with my own ears, and saw it with my own eyes, but still couldn't quite believe it. I have repeatedly listened to a recording of this concert without changing my mind. But being technically precocious and note-perfect is really irrelevant. There is nothing the slightest bit immature in Tao's music-making: He repeat edly shows the mind and heart of a complete musician, with a natural awareness of structure and style. As Paul Dukas said of the young Dinu Lipatti, "We have nothing to teach him. We can only encourage him to compose more and guide his development." I have no hesitation in calling Conrad Tao the most exciting prodigy ever to come my way. His promise is limitless.

Trio Cavatina
The Trio Cavatina--Ieva Jokubaviciute, pianist, Harumi Rhodes, violinist, and Priscilla Lee, cellist--was formed in 2005 at the Marlboro Music Festival. Having completed their studies at the New England Conservatory's 2006-07 Professional Piano Trio Training Program, these musicians appeared at Boston's Jordan Hall and New York's New School and Merkin Concert Hall. The ensemble looks forward to more engagements in New York, Maine, Vermont, and Vilnius, Lithuania (Jokubaviciute's place of birth). Rhodes studied with Ronald Copes, Earl Carlyss, and Donald Weilerstein; Jokubaviciute's piano teachers were Richard Goode and Seymour Lipkin; Lee's mentors include David Soyer (at Curtis) and Timothy Eddy (at the Mannes College). Their pedigrees speak for themselves. I was mightily impressed at the aforementioned Merkin Hall concert with the Trio Cavatina's potent, intense interpretations of Mozart's K. 542, Leon Kirchner's thewy, expressionistic Second Piano Trio (coached by the composer himself), and the terse, muscular Brahms Trio No. 3.

Di Wu, piano
Di Wu (Dee Oooh; the W is silent) was born 22 years ago in Xiamen, China. She won her first competition at age 6 and made her concerto debut at 14 with the Beijing Philharmonic. An alumna of the Curtis Institute, where she worked with Gary Graffman (whose studio likewise produced Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, and several other pianistic talents from the mainland), Di Wu won the Hilton Head International Piano Competition in 2005 (also the 2000 Missouri Southern International Competition). I reviewed her impressive Weill Hall debut on November 20, 2005. On that evening, for all her equipment and scrupulous musical intelligence, most of the works sounded too easy for her prodigious digits. Happily, her new CD ( )--of Debussy's Estampes, Liszt's Bminor Sonata, and Brahms's Paganini Variations, Books I and II--shows that Di Wu's artistry has matured dramatically. Her account of the Brahms is amazing. She takes all the difficult options (her octave glissandos are unbelievable!), and she conjures from the piano absolutely gossamer, violinistic textures, joyous humor, and brilliant airborne tempos.

Einav Yarden, piano
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden played a recital of works by Kurtág, Haydn, chumann, and Stravinsky at Rockefeller University last May. From the instant her inspired fingers touched the keyboard, it was clear that this 28-year old belonged among the top-flight pianists of her generation. Her résumé is formidable: BM and MM degrees with highest honors from Israel Rubin Academy and Peabody Conservatory and a graduate performer’s diploma (again from Peabody). Her principal teachers were Leon Fleisher (2001-05), Emanuel Krasovsky (1997-2001), and Hadassa Gonen (1992-97). She has had master classes and professional contact with many of the world’s greatest artists (Goode, Perahia, Schiff, Bashkirov, and Weissenberg among them). She has garnered many prizes and awards, and concertized extensively as a recitalist, chamber-music player, and concerto soloist. Surprisingly, this New York City resident has still not found management for her huge talent; nor has she made a CD to introduce herself to potential admirers. We shouldn't have to wait very long. 

For nearly five decades, pianist Harris Goldsmith has been recognized as one of America's most distinguished music critics. He currently teaches at the Mannes College of Music in New York City. Brilliant Classics recently released a two-CD set of his Beethoven piano music recordings and is  currently preparing a two-CD set of him performing works by Brahms and Schumann.




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