Tag Archives: Minsky Hall

Students Shine at Piano Recital

Ginger Hwalek Student Recital
Minsky Recital Hall, UMO
May 20, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

A well-tempered Steinway concert grand must be a powerful incentive to piano students. The recital Sunday afternoon at the University of Maine’s MInsky Recital Hall, by students of Ginger Yang Hwalek, was not only impressive in terms of technical achievement, but also enjoyable musically. The 20-some compositions ranged from Bach to Stravinsky, without a piano-method special in the bunch.

In fact, the technical expertise of the performers led a critic to evaluate them in terms of interpretation or realization of the composer’s intent rather than the ability to play the notes correctly. The first on stage, 10-year-old Jordan Seavey,* emphasized the easy flow of the Sonatina in A Minor by Anton Benda, and achieved a good Stravinsky coloration in that composer’s “Five Finger Toccata.”

Later on in the program, Julia Hammond’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk “ painted a minstrel in brilliant colors. Her “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassus,” from the same “Children’s Corner “ suite, generated beautiful waves of sound, but I prefer the image of a student plodding through a five-finger exercise, slyly changing key or soaring off in flights of fantasy from the boredom before him. But that’s just an opinion. Debussy, unlike Stravinsky, is always open to alternative readings.

Speaking of waves of sound, some of the works were of a high degree of difficulty, navigated almost perfectly. The Schumann “Aufschwung,” by Ha Do, was one example. Others included Anh Tran’s Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66 (Chopin), the Beethoven “Moonlight” Sonata, by Helen Shearer, the Beethoven Sonata in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1, by Lilja Hanson, and a rousing piano four-hands version of the Mozart Sonata in D Major (KV 381), by Cecilia Doering and her teacher.(The sonata selections were excerpts, which did not make them any the less entertaining.)

While most of the works were by prominent composers, some of the lesser-known were also interesting. Shearer played “The Story of Gaydar” by Russian composer Grigori Frid, a Brahms Ballade written by Grieg. Sofie Rueter sketched two animal portraits by Linda Namath, and Mei Tian played a brilliantly syncopated “Crimson,” from “Sketches in Color” by Robert Starer.

Fine intermediate composers had their place too: an Allegro by William Friedmann Bach and an Etude by Dimiry Kabaalevsky, played by William Xu, were followed by Vetri Vel’s interpretation of the Sonatina in C Major, Op. 55, No. 1 of Friedrich Kuhlau, plus the better-known “Siciliano” of Schumann.

The program ended with some fine pianistic coloration by Emma Shearer of “Two Arabesques” by Debussy. The works on display had one thing in common, as Hwalek pointed out: Each of the students had made them their own.

*Jordan Seavey is the grandson of Christopher Hyde, a writer and musician who lives in Pownal and can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

You’ve Come a Long Way: A Piano Recital in the 21st Century

Piano Recital
Students of Ginger Yang Hwalek
Minsky Recital Hall, University of Maine
May 21, 2017

On Sunday I went to Minsky Hall, on the University of Maine Campus, to hear my grandson, nine-year-old Jordan Seavey, play a Beethoven Sonatina and a Tarantella by Stephen Heller. I stayed to hear the rest of Ginger Yang Hwalek’s students in recital. I had prepared myself for an ordeal, but the experience turned out to be an unanticipated pleasure.

Piano teaching has come a long way since I went to my first recital, when everyone was happy just to make it through “The Jolly Rancher.” Any graduate of Juilliard now probably plays better than Franz Liszt, and I’m happy to see that the improvement extends to those, like Jordan, whose feet don’t reach the pedals. All of Hwalek’s students seemed to enjoy what they were doing

Every piece, and there were some long and challenging ones, was played by heart (as we used to say) and although there were some minor hesitations at times, generally all went smoothly and in tempo. Jordan had the sonatina down pat, and even seemed to like playing it before an audience.

He came first on the program, and was followed by an even tinier Zoe Pulitzer, who played four short pieces, including a nice Hayden Quadrille, and ended with a Waltz for Four Hands by Heinrich Wohlfahrt, with her teacher playing secondo.

Sofie Reuter also played four short works, including a Haydn German Dance in D Major, but I was most impressed by her gliding portrait of “The Snake“ by Renée Christopher.

William Xu came next, with a CPE Bach Solfeggietto and a Sonatiina in A Minor by George Anton Benda, the first work on the program to require the use of crossed hands.

Vetri Vel played another Beethoven Sonatina, in F Major, plus a descriptive “Teasing Song” by Béla Bartók.

Nate Shearer performed an up-tempo Allegro from a Sonatina by Kuhlau (Is a pattern emerging here?) but seemed more at home in an atmospheric “L’Orage” (“The Storm”) Op. 109, No. 13 by Burgmüller, stemming from the days when pianos had attachments for rendering musical portraits of battles and thunderstorms.

I was floored by the grace and feeling of Inga Zimba’s Mendelssohn Song Without Words, Op. 55, No. 1.  Many professionals do not play it as well. Then she turned around and mastered something the exact opposite—a fiery and percussive study in overtones—Rodion Shchedrin’s “Russian Bell Chimes.”

Helen Shearer performed the Bach Invention No. 8 in F Major—all of the Inventions are more difficult than they seem at first glance—plus a dramatic “Knect Rupert” of Schumann.

Clementi’s Spiritoso from the Sonatina in C. Major, Op 36, No. 3, reminded me of Vladimir Horowitz’s predilection for this composer, but Cecilia Doering’s version of a Toccatina by Samuel Maikapar was even more virtuosic.

Emma Higgins’ Six Ecossaises by Beethoven were eminently danceable, followed by a wonderfully discordant Bagatelle, Op. 5, No. 1 of Alexander Tcherepnin

Robert Starer’s tone poems, Pink and Bright Orange, from “Sketches in Color,” as played by Mei Tian, were effective. I could see the correct shade of pink behind closed eyes, but pale yellow was as far as I could get with Bright Orange.

She was followed by Emma Shearer, with a highly proficient and descriptive interpretation of Joaquin Turina’s modern masterpiece “Clowns.” She then switched effortlessly to Greig’s melodic tone poem in sonata form: “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen,”

The Shearer sisters and brother got together for a delightful six-handed romp through Robert Vandall’s “Triple Dip,” a jazzy piece that combines a stride bass with overtones of bebop.

The program concluded with a performance by Mira Schubeck, Hwalek’s senior student, of Two Arabesques by Claude Debussy. These seminal works, with their unexpected transitions and quirky humor, presage Debussy’s mature piano music, and their premonitions were beautifully brought out. She was rewarded with flowers and a hug.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.