Set apart from the usual concerts in the framework of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s subscription series was one entitled ‘First Prize,’ and dedicated to young musicians ‘from east and west’ who had succeeded in various international competitions.
So we bought tickets for a concert with Yeol Eum Son, a young pianist from South Korea. The programme was particularly attractive: Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, followed by Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. What a feast!
The conductor, Arie Vardi, who is also a professor at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover, Germany, has taught many illustrious pianists, and it is with him that Yeol Eum Son is currently studying. As the two came onto the stage to start the performance it was obvious that there was a warm rapport between them.
Choosing to play any two classical concerti in one programme obviously represents a huge challenge for any soloist, and in this case this was particularly the case. Both concerti start with deceptively simple melodies which then go on to become ever-more complex. This is particularly so with the Rachmaninov concerto, which requires both physical endurance and power as well as sensitivity.
The second movement, Allegro Moderato, of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto has always been one of my favourites, displaying a heart-warming dialogue between the aggressive ‘forte’ of the orchestra and the calm, moderate notes played by the piano. I always regard it as a conversation between one rather angry person and another who speaks consistently in a serene and unruffled way. Much to my satisfaction, it is the harsh, angry tones of the orchestra which eventually succumb to the moderate ones of the piano, so that in the end the two blend together and play a gentle tune to conclude the movement. I don’t believe that Beethoven had ever heard of the concepts of Yin and Yang, but in this case it is the Yin, or gentle, feminine aspect, that overcomes the gruff, masculine Yang, and that is something which I personally find particularly satisfying.
Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto places huge technical and physical demands on any soloist, let along one so young, and even more so one who has just played another demanding piano concerto. But Miss Eum Son sailed through it without any evident effort, playing all those crashing chords and rippling runs with verve and gusto, never seeming to flag.
At the end, acceding to the audience’s rapturous applause, the soloist played an encore (one of Chopin’s frothy impromptus). Maestro Vardi was obviously very proud of his talented student, and as the audience continued to applaud he gestured to indicate that she should play yet another encore. At this, however, his prize student balked, and an expression of something that looked like revulsion or distaste (or perhaps simple exhaustion) suffused her delicate features, and so the concert came to an end.
One more remark is in place with regard to the attire worn by the young soloist. The pattern was the same for both halves of the concert, but the colour of the fabric was black in the first half and gold in the second. The dress was reminiscent of something that jazz singer Shirley Bassey used to wear in performance – slinky, clinging and long, with an extremely low-cut back, exposing rather a lot of skin. I suppose it’s good to have a figure that can carry off something like that, but it’s a bit of a distraction for the members of the audience, and especially the men, as I gathered from the conversations I overheard during the interval.
Notwithstanding, it was a pleasure and a privilege to hear this gifted young pianist play. I’m sure we will be hearing about her for many years to come.