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A Triumphant Return

Joyce Yang returns to Buffalo, this time playing solo.

Pianist Joyce Yang opens the Ramsi P. Tick Series

If you were lucky enough to be in the audience at Kleinhans Music Hall on a cold, Saturday night last January, and heard the dazzling young pianist, Joyce Yang, deliver an electrifying performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Music Director JoAnn Falletta, you will want to be in the audience at the Flickinger Auditorium, on the Nichols School Campus, this Friday, September 23 at 7:30pm, when the Ramsi P. Tick Concert Series opens its season with the first Buffalo solo recital by Yang, a Van Cliburn Silver Medalist.

One of the planned highlights of the 75th anniversary season of the BPO was a special performance by Lang Lang, the highest profile classical musician in the world. A day before his performance, Lang Lang, who is not known for cancelling, had to withdraw, due to a stomach virus. The BPO had a big problem, but executive director Dan Hart sprang into action, trying to come up with a last-minute substitute. As it turned out, they got just the right one.

“It was about 6pm on Friday when I got a call, asking me if I would be able to perform the Rachmaninoff Second with the BPO on Saturday evening,” Yang explained in a phone interview, “and not until 8pm or so that the details were finalized. Since I live in an apartment building, I can’t play my piano after 10pm, so I packed a few snacks and headed over to the practice rooms at the Juilliard School, where I played from 9pm to 1am. I went home and tried to sleep without much luck, since I had to get up in a couple of hours to catch a 5am flight to Buffalo to make the 9am orchestral rehearsal.”

According to Yang, the rehearsal had more than a few rough spots, and after it was over, she tried to take what she described as a “panic nap,” but she just could not relax—not at all surprising, since the last time that she had previously performed the Rachmaninoff was in September 2009.

“It was quite a shocking 24 hours,” said Yang, “but when I walked onto stage and got a standing ovation before I had even played a single note, it made me forget my anxiety—that kind of welcome, which I had never received before and may never receive again, just blew me away.”

Of course, even when you get that kind of welcome you still have to produce, and Yang is quick to give credit to the close collaboration provided by Falletta. “JoAnn made it easy,” Yang said. “It’s as if she said, ‘Let’s start,’ and then a door opened, and we’re on an inevitable journey together, where I found myself pleasantly surprised every few minutes, while escaping a few potentially catastrophic situations along the way. It went so much better than it had at the rehearsal.”

Judging from the second spontaneous standing ovation that Yang received—this time after her performance—it would be hard to disagree.

In the months since, Yang has pursued a dizzying touring schedule, across North America, with stops in Australia, Malaysia, and her native Korea. In addition to numerous orchestral engagements, she has also collaborated in many chamber music concerts, including appearances at the Santa Fe and Aspen festivals, as well as giving several solo recitals, which brings us to her Friday appearance.

“This is the first time that I’m opening with the Beethoven Sonata No. 18,” Yang said, “and maybe I’m taking a chance, but I feel that the humor of the piece, with its constant surprises and lack of a slow movement, is very self-revelatory.” Yang will also perform Debussy’s exotic Estampes, which features three movements that are very different from each other, and Liszt’s rousing Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, which closes the first half of the program.

The more introspective second half opens with My Joys, Liszt’s transcendental transcription of a song by Chopin. Noted musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen has convincingly argued that Liszt’s interpretation is one of the very rare instances where another composer has been able to improve on the music of Chopin.

My Joys is an ideal introduction to Schumann’s Carnaval,” says Yang, “as its sense of intense, otherworldly intimacy provides a nice transition to the interior world of Schumann’s Carnaval.” Schumann, according to Yang, is “the composer who is now closest to my core. I feel a freedom and honesty in Schumann that I do not get from any other composer. He’s like a child, who tells you exactly what she thinks, and I feel that I never have to hold back when I am playing his music.

Tickets for the four concerts series are sold by subscription only. For more information, call 759-4778 or visit

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