• Sarah Kwok

Chopin & Beyond - January 31

Müzewest Concerts presents Chopin and Beyond with pianist Andrew J. Yang on January 31. Read on as Andrew discusses a wide range of topics, from Chopin's development of a "Polish" sound to how boxing impacts his music-making to his teaching approach, then go to the show!

So, tell me about the show

The name of the recital is “Chopin and Beyond: Great Polish Piano Music”. The program features entirely Polish music, namely works by Frédérich Chopin in addition to two Nocturnes by the esteemed pianist and former Prime Minister of Poland, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, and Maria Szymanowska, a virtuosa predecessor of Chopin who was one of the most well-renowned pianists of her time. I would say that permeating themes are nostalgia, death, and consolation. My recent fascination with the captivating life of Chopin and having performed in Poland the last three summers instigated me to present this program.

Are there any characteristics or themes that appear throughout the works, a Polish sound of sorts?

It is incredible that Chopin essentially single-handedly crafted the genesis of the Polish sound around two centuries ago. His music has remained immortal, relevant, and touches us deeply to this day. Chopin left Poland at the age of 20, right before the outbreak of the November 1830 Uprising (a major Polish uprising against the Russian Empire) and never returned to Poland. For most of the remainder of his life, he lived in Paris, a city which he had a love-hate relationship with. It is irrefutable that his Polish musical education and childhood experiences influenced him. Yet, Chopin molded his musical language in a unique manner while an adult in France, intertwining his love of bel canto singing, Polish traditional dances and rhythms, and his complicated emotional inner life. Much of the “Polish sound” that we now refer to as emblematic of Chopin was perhaps constructed not as a direct lineage of Polish music but from Chopin’s inspiration in memory and sentiments of an idealized past. I find a certain poignancy and nobility in his music which I find is at the core of the “Polish sound”.

What do you enjoy most about playing this repertoire?

I connect deeply with each of the pieces in this repertoire. It is quite a dark program, filled with gloom, melancholy, nostalgia, and inexorable doom. Yet it is also contrasted with moments of consolation, love, and warmth. These two general emotional worlds are what I am attracted to most in classical music; the ability of this music to provide catharsis never ceases to amaze me.

Although it is a cliché, music is truly a powerful vehicle and manifestation of life. A close friend and mentor of mine, Renate Hammer, passed away this past July after a long fight with cancer. She had found great solace and purpose in music-making – which I believe was an important component to the beautiful life that she lived. Her empathy for others and passion for music have always inspired me. For whatever reason, there are certain moments in this program that bring me close with her - and that makes me happy!

You have numerous other interests, including training in MMA, BJJ and boxing - do you find that these have any influence on your music-making?

I love MMA. After training boxing on-and-off for years, I recently started training out of Modern Martial Arts & Fitness in Pasadena, California, with Head Coach and BJJ Black Belt Justen Hamilton, who is one of the best coaches and pedagogues I have ever met. Classical performance requires a great amount of technical proficiency and management in addition to an intellectual and emotional toll, which all-together combined, makes it one of the most taxing careers one can find. MMA provides a healthy outlet where I can re-center my mind and body and focus my energies in one place (almost in a meditative way). When one learns new techniques in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is important for the mind to be focused only on the task at hand and be in the present. Of course, there is a raw animalistic side to fighting which I am also drawn to. It is a great arena to test myself and to gain toughness and mental fortitude when fighting through uncomfortable and grueling positions. I find that training MMA puts me in a healthier mindset which surely helps in all arenas of life including music-making. In addition, the tenets of hard work, dedication, and humility, surely carry over well into the musical career.

You'll also be doing a masterclass while in Vancouver - what do you want to pass on to students when you're teaching?

The two main components of teaching are knowledge and care. Since I’ll only be able to work with each student for 45 minutes, I want to be efficient with time and provide pragmatic technical and structural knowledge that can hopefully be implemented in other pieces as well. Most importantly, I want to encourage each student to allow for the vulnerability to put their all into each piece they approach.

I think one of the downsides of music academia is that it tends to take things a bit too seriously and focus too much on intellectual detail. There is also often this general notion that as classical musicians, we are mostly servants to the composers - that we are solely a bridge to their intent, and that our main job is to follow the score with holy dedication. I agree with following markings in the score, but I want to stress the immense freedom in expression and decision-making within the structure, where the student has the opportunity for their voice and personality to shine through. Therefore, my goal in teaching is to provide knowledge and inspiration while helping to remove technical and emotional barriers, so that the student can increase their ability to express their creative energy and unique personality through the music. I hope that playing music can be a rewarding and happy part of all students’ lives.

Before concluding this coming this interview, if I may, I’d like to give a shout out to a few people (since this this the first interview I’ve done in Canada). I’d like to thank the two most influential teachers I’ve had in my musical journey: William Wellborn, with whom I have studied with since I was 13, and Antoinette Perry, whom I have recently began studying with at USC in my doctoral studies. They exemplify true artists, caring pedagogues, and outstanding human beings. I’d also like to thank the supportive people I’m blessed to have in my life: my parents, Jyeshwu and Wenjin; girlfriend and fantastic Icelandic pianist, Erna Vala; the “bros”, including Paya Sarraf, Matt Walsh, Cody Heiner, John Vogt, Evan Robinson, Sam Boocker, Dario Yazdi, Dan Cao, Alex Barontini, Chad Carter, Chris Lim, Kenton Campbell, Michael Weinfeld, Vincent Camuglia, Chris Greenhill, and Khaire Vaughan; my training partners and coaches at Modern Martial Arts & Fitness. Great appreciation for my friend Jennifer West from Muzewest Concerts for presenting me, and to Karen Pidcock and Mary Cottrell for your generosity and help.

Polish piano music is highlighted with its wealth of emotions when Müzewest Concerts presents Andrew J. Yang in Chopin and Beyond on January 31 at Tom Lee Music, 6pm. Go to the show!

More information: eventbrite

Andrew Yang: www.andrewyangpiano.com

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