Bela Bartok: Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (arr. for one piano and percussion by Martin Grubinger Sr.)
John Psathas: One Study (arr. for one piano and percussion by Martin Grubinger Sr.)
Igor Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps (arr. for one piano and percussion by Martin Grubinger Sr.)
Arturo Marquez: Danzón No. 2 (arr. for solo piano by Leticia Gómez-Tagle; arr. for one piano and percussion by Martin Grubinger Sr.)
Yuja Wang: Piano
Martin Grubinger: Percussion
Alexander Georgiev: Percussion
Leonhard Schmidinger: Percussion
Martin Grubinger Sr.: Percussion
Having one’s own Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall is about as prestigious an honor as they come for any musician, but for the dazzling pianist Yuja Wang, it is probably just another day in the office, or rather six days in the office, as this season she is busily curating six concerts for the legendary music venue.
Never one to rest on her already impressive laurels, Wang obviously decided to heed her voracious spirit of adventure.
For the first program of her series, she joined forces with her guest star Austrian percussion prodigy Martin Grubinger and three partners of his, in the Stern Auditorium last Friday night. Even more exciting, our piano-and-percussion evening would be filled by known and less known pieces by an impressively international range of composers, all arranged by Martin Grubinger’s father, who also happened to be one of the musicians onstage.
Needless to say, you can always trust the unstoppable Miss Wang to start a Carnegie Hall Perspective series with a loud, clear and―naturally―sold-out bang.
The show started with Hungarian composer Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion and, from the very first notes, it became evident that piano and percussion are, in fact, brothers in rhythms. I tend to dismiss the sounds of tropical instruments such as the marimba and the xylophone as too mellow, but hearing them handle Bartok’s often dark and relentlessly driven composition was certainly an interesting experience. What was even more spell-binding though, was watching the tight ensemble energetically works their way through the piece with jaw-dropping virtuosity.
New Zealander composer John Psathas’ short and fun "One Study" was a relentlessly kaleidoscopic movement that blended a little bit of everything, including rock and jazz. Never losing a beat, the musicians confidently kept their momentum throughout the exhilarating 10 minutes.
In the original line-up, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps was the concert’s opening number, but by the time we all opened our programs, we found a slip informing us that it would be played after intermission, probably to make people come back to their seats. Sure enough, they did, and ended up being vastly rewarded for it too.
Already famous for its viscerally primitive rhythms, on Friday night the ground-breaking work was even more thrilling than usual in the hands of four expert percussion or percussion-like piano, and I dare say that the missing instruments were barely missed, if at all. The opening bassoon was winningly replaced by a vibraphone, which promptly set the tone for the unusual journey, and the small but fierce ensemble went on to create plenty of fascinating colors and sounds.
After such satisfying delirium, it was difficult to come back to the much more subdued reality of Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’s short and sweet "Danzón No. 2". Pleasantly languorous and undeniably colorful, it went down like a refreshing drink after a terrific nightmare.
Our evening was winding down, but it was over yet. Responding to our huge ovation, the star duo came back for a devilishly efficient version of American composer Jesse Sieff’s "Chopstakovich", a dazzling number inspired by the Allegro molto from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, with a whiff from the Allegretto from his Piano Trio No. 2 thrown in. And just like that, the encore became one of the many highlights of my evening.