Yuja Wang, technical brilliance, but..

Last Saturday, March 29, 2014, I had the good fortune to see Yuja Wang at Boston Symphony Hall play the fiery and technically demanding Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 2. If you are ever going to splash money on going to see a piano concerto, this would be it. Prokofiev no. 2 requires such finger gymnastics that it is spell-bounding to watch– which I did, with as-good-as-you-can-get seat in the orchestra.

Yuja is always very much in control, a fact that you quickly realize after the intense cadenza in the first movement alone. Yet, I feel this became her undoing at times. It was too intensely controlled and for me, this concerto is about veering on the edge and pulling back, reckless and heady at some points. Even though my companion said it was the fastest piano playing she had ever seen, when compared it to Li Yundi’s recording, Yuja played slower. Despite her technical prowess (godliness), sometimes there felt to be something lacking, though being an amateur musician, I confess I cannot point to any specific causes.

There was just one other minor drawback, and again I could not pinpoint exactly what it was– Yuja herself, the piano, or the acoustics. All together, the piano was softer than I expected, and the top register seemed flat and unable to project, which is terrible since Prokofiev requires a steely ring at times, but some upper notes melted into the background instead of ringing. However, Yuja adjusted and especially during her solo parts, she was able to thunder and create an entire orchestra just within the piano. It was incredible.

The third movement was also spot-on, I could see her enjoyment and (ironic?) humor shine through the mass of accents and syncopations. It is easy to play Prokofiev aggressively but hard to add delicacy and lightness. Yuja has remarkably “fleet” fingers, able to draw out incredible subtle nuances, yet still ring clear against the mass of heavy bass notes and strings.

With Sir Andrew Davis, the orchestra itself, must again deserve a round of applause. It never dragged and highlighted some incredibly poignant dissonances I had never heard before and the coloration was fantastic. The orchestra never dragged and kept Yuja in very respectable pace, though I wish they egged her on a bit.

Anne-Sophie Mutter is.

On Saturday, I attended the sold-out Boston Symphony Orchestra and heard legendary violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter perform Dvorak’s violin concerto and romance for violin and orchestra. I will be the first to admit that this repertoire is not my preferred listening– but keeping this in mind, I took along the score so I could be at least intellectually engaged.

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I was completely floored. Her technique is astounding and yet, it never goes over our heads, and she pays prodigious attention to the phrasing, to the music. Usually I would do some kind of review, but Mutter really is as intense and phenomenal as one could imagine, or fail to imagine. The BSO was tightly oiled and fluid, like always.

Most importantly, Mutter personally spoke to everyone when signing CDs, even though there must have been over 100 people in line for her signature, and she had performances two nights before where she also signed CDs. I have attended BSO concerts– Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang in particular, both classical music superstars– where the soloists did not even bother doing CD signing. Mutter is as big a superstar as either, and she certainly does not need to sign CDs to sell them in mass droves (case in point: she just released a 40-CD collection of her past 30 years; there must be a substantial market for this kind of excessive stuff). In addition, I have been to other CD signings, like Emerson String Quartet and Li Yundi, in which they merely sign and grunt on. I definitely understand the musicians are tired after playing concerts and do not expect much, which is why I am so pleasantly surprised that Mutter seemed full of energy and smiles, even having the usher take photos of her signing CDs. 

Heart hammering away, I did speak briefly with Mutter, and I babbled how my favorite recording of hers was Tzigane. Her eyebrows knitted together and told me that she would be playing it in a concert cycle in 2016 in the United States, and I told her I’d see her there. Fingers crossed Tzigane is with a full orchestra and not piano accompaniment. But heck, she is Sophie-Anne Mutter– she can snap her fingers and any orchestra will come running. Mutter has the rare ability to appeal to a wide audience and critics alike, increasingly difficult in a “everyone-is-a-critic” world.

[kpop] rookie alert: Royal Pirates

A few years ago, I came across a Sorry Sorry rock cover, and subsequently fell in love with Royal Pirates and their emo-punk rock inspired style, epitomized with their own single Disappear– my 11th most played song of all time.

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so I’m thinking, part of the Royal Pirate’s “training” included plastic surgery

Royal Pirates made their debut in kpop summer 2013 with Shout Out and were disappointingly bland, bright and cheery, sounding nothing like their emo selves from four years ago. CNBlue, FT Island, and LEDApple all have varying shades of cheeriness, but none of them are “emo” bordering on screamo, and I thought Royal Pirates would really have a chance to differentiate themselves if they stuck with their roots.

Royal Pirates have released another album and single, Drawing the Line (with a fantastic head-banging teaser that recalls their emo days!), and yet again, paired with a few funky electro-synths and happy vibes. Yet, the music video is interesting and the song slightly more punky with quite delicate vocals from Moon-chul, almost like LEDApple’s Hanbyul in some respects. Due to the band being from California, there is an expected pleasure in the album– an English version of Drawing the Line.

Listening to the rest of the album, it is disappointingly produced and full of electronicky-instrumentals. Just another kpop band.

SHINee 2013 retrospective & Gayo Daejuns

2013 has musically been the busiest year for SHINee thus far, releasing three LPs (Dream Girl: Misconceptions of You, Why So Serious: Misconceptions of Me, Boys Meet U), one EP (Everybody), for a total of six singles. Excepting Jonghyun, all of the members have grown as singers– I would say that the most promising is Minho, with a close second place to Key, who is returning to and developing his original sound in Love Like Oxygen. Improvement of SHINee as singers and the concurrent increase of ballads sans rapping released gave us B-side gems like Beautiful, Password, Symptoms, and Excuse Me Miss. 2013 is easily the most consistent and technically advanced year we have seen from SHINee yet.

Outside of SHINee’s music, Taemin featured on Henry’s Trap (and visually on BoA’s Disturbance). Jonghyun composed and featured on IU’s Gloomy Clock and Son Dambi’s Red Candle, as well singing an OST for The King’s Dream. Key participated in two musicals: Catch Me If You Can and Bonnie and Clyde.

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On television, as a whole unit, SHINee appeared little: Weekly Idol and SHINee’s Wonderful Day were the high notes. While entertaining perhaps to SHINee fans, SHINee’s Wonderful Day was quite boring as the members are never as funny and wonderfully cohesive as when they are together as in Hello Baby. In the spring, Taemin was cast on We Got Married with Apink’s Naeun. However, together with the bland angelic “personality” of Taemin and the constructed fabrication of We Got Married, this was incredibly boring for most other than fans of Taemin and Naeun. A much better casting would have been Key or Jonghyun, who are much less guarded about their words and enjoy hamming it up for the cameras. Next, Onew and Minho both had their own turns at acting, with former with much-panned Welcome To the Royal Villa and the latter with Medical Top Team and Let’s Go Dream Team. Continue reading