Author: Henry Michaels

A Winning Combination

One can imagine the elation that 19-year-old Joyce Yang must have felt when she heard her name called as a semi-finalist in the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the famed quadrennial contest that has served as both a proving ground and launching pad for emerging classical pianists since its founding in 1962. Beyond the opportunity for recognition, prizes, concert tours and more, however, there was another reason to celebrate advancing in the competition. The Cliburn’s semi-final round requires a chamber music component, which affords each pianist the opportunity to perform with one of classical music’s preeminent ensembles. For Joyce Yang, that preeminent ensemble was the Takács Quartet.

Joyce Yang went on to win the silver medal in the 2005 Cliburn Competition. Since then, her rise has been nothing short of meteoric. She made her New York Philharmonic debut the following year, performing under the baton of Lorin Maazel in both Avery Fisher Hall and on the orchestra’s Asian tour. A subsequent favorite of Maazel’s, Yang appeared with the orchestra again in 2008 at the maestro’s express request in his final season as music director. Since then, she’s appeared with, among others, the Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and the BBC Philharmonic. Yang is also both a Grammy nominee (for the album Works for Violin and Piano by Franck, Kurtág, Previn, Schumann with violinist Augustin Hadelich) and a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant.

Joyce Yang will bring her spectacular artistry to Macky Auditorium on Jan. 12, 2024, where she will no doubt wow audiences with a first-half solo recital before reuniting with the Takács Quartet for a performance of Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81. While it is far from Yang’s first reunion with the quartet, it will be the first time it’s happened on stage in Boulder.

“We first played the Dvořák Quintet with Joyce in 2005 during her semi-final round at the Cliburn competition,” says Takács violinist Edward Dusinberre. “Since then, we have played regularly with her throughout the USA. She is a vivacious and thoughtful chamber musician for whom everything seems easy on the piano – we are so happy now to have the opportunity to perform with her here in Boulder.”

Yang will open the program with selections from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, a set of 12 character pieces – one for each month of the year. These short but delightful pieces were originally published throughout 1876 in serialized fashion with their publisher promising “a whole series of piano compositions, specially written for our journal, the character of which will correspond entirely to the titles of the pieces, and the month in which they will be published.” Each individual piece has both an epigraph and an evocative (and month-appropriate) title to help express each specific mood. Yang will follow the Tchaikovsky pieces with selections from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famed Preludes, Op. 32. Written in 1910, these pieces showcase both the dramatic and the intimate sides of the piano. She will conclude the solo portion of the program with a virtuosic performance of Guido Agosti’s arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

The second half of the concert consists entirely of the Dvořák Piano Quintet, a triumph of a work that is a cornerstone of the repertoire. Audiences are certain to delight in the pairing. After all, the combination of Yang, Takács and, well, Dvořák has certainly proven to be a winning one in the past. In addition to her silver medal in the 2005 Cliburn Competition, Yang was also presented with the Steven De Groote Memorial Award for Best Performance of Chamber Music for her performance of this very work with the Takács Quartet.

Joyce Yang and the Takács Quartet perform at Macky Auditorium on the Artist Series on Jan. 12, 2024.