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Joyce Yang Plays Beethoven

An audience favorite returns to Kleinhans Music Hall

Joyce Yang

Buffalo Philharmonic music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium and pianist Joyce Yang will be the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5, (“Emperor”), on Saturday evening at 8pm and Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm. Yang secured her place in the storied annals of the BPO in January 2010, when she stepped in, with less than 24 hours notice, to replace the ailing Lang Lang, the world’s reigning classical keyboard superstar, as soloist in the most highly anticipated concert of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary season.

The youngest ever silver medalist at the Van Cliburn competition, Lang explained in a phone interview that “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, 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 back in September 2009.

“It was quite a shocking 24 hours,” says 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 JoAnn Falletta. “JoAnn made it easy,” Yang says. “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.

It is unclear as to how Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, composed in 1809 during the French occupation of Vienna, became known as the “Emperor,” but the name was definitely not given to it by the composer. Beethoven had previously dedicated his Eroica Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, but when Napoleon had himself crowned emperor in 1804 the composer scratched out the dedication so completely that he left a hole in the manuscript. Anton Schindler, a pupil and secretary of Beethoven’s for the last ten years of the composer’s life, wrote a personalized biography of Beethoven in which he described the first performance of the Piano Concerto No. 5 in Vienna, at a private concert at the opera house, in honor of the Austrian Emperor’s birthday, a possible clue to the work’s name that rings truer than the oft-repeated but unauthenticated story of a French officer’s exclaiming, “C’est l’Empereur,” during the performance. In any case, the title is appropriate enough, given the concerto’s virtuosic style and wide dynamic range.

Also on the program are two popular works by George Gershwin, the overture to “Strike up the Band” and the “Catfish Row Suite” from his opera Porgy and Bess, along with the overture to the opera Gyul’sara by Russian composer Reinhold Glière.

Know the Score

The BPO inaugurates Know the Score, a new Thursday evening series, with a 7pm starting time, on October 11 when JoAnn Falletta explores the exotic world of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in a visit to ancient Persia as seen through the eyes of the most beautiful story-teller of all time. The shorter duration concerts in this series, which start an hour earlier than most BPO events, will offer an in-depth exploration by the conductor of significant works in the symphonic repertoire, accompanied by a video presentation, followed by an opportunity to meet the musicians at a post-concert party. On January 24 staff conductor Paul Ferington explores French Impressionism in art and music, complete with visuals from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, while on May 23 associate conductor Matthew Kraemer dissects one of Beethoven’s most important and influential works, the Eroica Symphony.

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