School of Music piano students to perform in ‘big lights event’

School of Music students will perform in the Chautauqua Piano Program Showcase at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater. The showcase replaces the annual Piano Competition as a gala-style event with solo and duet performances. Brett Phelps/Staff Photographer

Zoe Kolenovsky
Staff writer

Students of the School of Music’s Piano Program are set to take the Amphitheater stage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon in a showcase of the progress over the past five weeks at Chautauqua.

“For most people, it will be one of the biggest venues they ever play in, and that’s exciting,” said Nikki Melville, chair of the Piano Program. “I’m very happy for them that they get that opportunity.”

The concert consists of a series of solo works and duets presented by 13 Piano students.

“This is our sort of big lights event,” Melville said.

The showcase takes the place of the competition that the Piano Program held in years past, a decision Melville said was made to preserve the pedagogical perspective and focus of the festival.

“We found that students would inevitably cycle back to old repertoire because when you’re in a competition, you want to play your best. That’s a hard place to really try something new or try a different interpretation,” she said.

The structure of this showcase is much more inclusive than that of the competition, which would conclude with a winners’ recital in the Amp.

“Three of (the students) got to play there … and that was great,” said Melville. “But it’s not the same thing as others also getting the opportunity to play. So this was a way of turning it into a little more of a variety show kind of thing where more people got to play for a smaller amount of time.”

Melville said the pieces for the showcase were chosen to align with the Chautauqua Lecture Series theme for Week Six: “A Life of Literature.”

“We have tried really hard to look at the bigger Chautauqua things going on,” Melville said. “Almost all the pieces have some connection to extra-musical inspiration, whether it be visual art or literature or poetry or imagery.”

The students selected the pieces themselves, preparing through coachings with Melville and fellow resident faculty member J.Y. Song, as well as in private lessons and masterclasses with the program’s many guest faculty members. This year’s lineup includes such pianists as Alexander Kobrin, Sara Davis Buechner, Boris Slutsky, Norman Krieger and HaeSun Paik, as well as Artist-in-Residence Alexander Gavrylyuk.

“It’s always a joint effort,” said Melville.

The program opens with the third movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 36, performed by Andrew Chen. This will be succeeded by two movements from Johannes Brahms’ Two Klavierstucke, Op. 118 as performed by Chelsea Ahn, then Peizhang Wu playing two movements from Frederic Chopin’s Two Etudes, Op. 25.

Sean Yang will take the stage next with his rendition of Minako Tokuyama’s Musica Nara, Op. 25, Alexander Tsereteli following with Claude Debussy’s Two Preludes.

The first half of the showcase concludes with a collaboration by Eric Yu and Sean Yang as they perform George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” and “They All Laughed.” The performance will serve as a preview for the recitals taking place next week, many of which are duets between students of the Piano Program.

“It’s just a really fun way for the kids to learn new repertoire … and have something that looks like community while they’re doing it,” Melville said of the two-piano works.

The second half begins with Saehyun Park’s delivery of the first movement of Enrique Granados’ Goyescas, titled “Los Requiebros,” or “The Compliments.” She will be followed by Zhenyi Long playing Chopin’s Variations on “La Ci Darem La Mano,” then Grace Tubbs with Robert Schumann’s Carnaval Op. 9.

Vanessa Yu will play the third movement of Debussy’s Images Book I, followed by Gabriel Landstedt performing Rachmaninoff’s Two Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39. The performance will finish with Gershwin’s Variations on “I Got Rhythm” as delivered by HaEun Yang.

The Gershwin pieces in the program hold a special significance for the School of Music, as his 1925 Concerto in F was written largely at Chautauqua Institution. This history has not been lost on the students performing in Sunday’s showcase, nor the program’s guest faculty members, many of whom have performed Gershwin works in their recitals.

“This summer, everybody’s got this Gershwin thing going, which is wonderful,” said Melville. “It’s a perfect fit for this sort of gala concert.”

The showcase will be especially rewarding for the students, as it is their only opportunity to perform in the Amp this summer.

“Our typical shows tend to be on a smaller scale with the students,” Melville said. “It’s still wonderful; we have packed audiences and everybody has a great time. But this is our big moment in the spotlight.”

“There’s no feeling like getting out on a stage that big in a hall that big and… projecting music into that space,” she said. “It’s a very unique experience, and it’s really special for these kids to have a chance to do that.”


The author Zoe Kolenovsky