Piano Area students reflect on pieces and performances that they admire.
The Piano Area in the Michigan State University College of Music is thankful for the continuing and generous support from our patrons. With this project, we have asked piano students to pick a YouTube video that has inspired them. We hope that you will enjoy the variety as well as getting to know our students through their comments and the performances that have influenced their lives.
Hrant Bagrazyan | Chutikan Chaikittiwatana | ShanShan Ding | Jiwon Han | Anqi Huang | Soyeon Kang | Hee Jeong Kim | Dmitri Kristalinsky | Minhae Lee | Subin Lee | Ling Lo | Gyumi Rha | Sin Yee Yap | More to come!
Hrant Bagrazyan is pursuing his Doctoral of Musical Arts degree in Piano Performance at Michigan State University College of Music in the studio of Associate Professor Margarita Shevchenko. A native of Armenia, he received an artist diploma from Yerevan State Conservatory and a professional studies diploma, artist diploma and master in music degree from Cleveland Institute of Music prior to coming to MSU.
Bach Goldberg Variations, performed by Glenn Gould
"I absolutely love Glenn Gould for his selfless dedication to music and his unique ability to sort of depart from our subjective material world and enter outer space with his piano. I think this video (from 1981) contains that feeling of absolutely 'unreal' quality which Gould's playing has."
Chutikan Chaikittiwatana is a pianist from Thailand who studies with Margarita Shevchenko. She is a teaching assistant at MSU who earned her Master’s degree from Northwestern and her Bachelor of Music at Ithaca College.
Chopin Concerto No. 1, performed by Seong Jin Cho
"I actually have many recordings that I really like. However, I would like to share this recording that had an impact on me several years ago. I haven’t gone back to listen to it for a while now, so I don’t really know if I still feel the same, but it definitely impacted and inspired me a lot back then. It made me feel, think and reflect on why I do what I do.
At one point during high school, I became extremely sick of this concerto. It was when my high school friend played this piece with the school orchestra. I was in the orchestra, in the second violin section. I heard this piece in the rehearsal and in practice rooms almost every day for several months. Then a year later, my brother began to learn it for a performance with the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra. I heard him practicing at home every single day. I also listened to several different recordings of the piece in the car when he (and us, the family) wanted to hear/study different interpretations from great artists.
This piece is beautiful, but at one point I was really, really, really sick of it. Whenever someone turned on the recordings, I always wanted to turn it off by just hearing the first phrase of the orchestra intro. So, I stopped listening to all recordings/performances of this piece for quite a long time.
Seong-Jin Cho won first prize at the Chopin Competition in 2015. I was in Vienna (studying abroad) that year and was busy adjusting myself there, so I didn’t follow the competition at all. I randomly came across this particular Chopin Concerto competition on YouTube a year later. I first thought that his touch was too bright, too vivid and too present for Chopin music (in my taste). And sometimes, I felt like there was too much busy activity of sounds in his playing. However, as I listened through, I heard many “fresh” moments in the piece. The characters, the colors, the emotions that I never thought existed in this piece. For me, it was like I just heard this Chopin Concerto for the first time. I also felt as if the music “speaks” something. The notes are alive, not just creating beautiful sound and phrase, but I felt the messages.
So, I went back and carefully re-listened to the recording several times to find out “what in his playing” makes me hear those things and feel like that. I thought it was his “full,” “bright,” and “vivid” touch (that I didn’t like at first) that allows all the color changes he made in them to become very clear (like “into the face” for me). This recording for me is not just a brilliant performance or a beautifully interpreted playing. For me, it’s communication. The music, those notes, speak something and I can really feel it.
Then I listened to quite a lot of his recordings. Some I like, some I didn’t. I felt like his live-performance recordings sound more “alive” than his “recording-recording.” I eventually got to hear him play this Chopin concerto live with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and it again sounded so new, fresh, full of communications as if every note is alive and they speak something. In my opinion, his playing sounded so much better in live performance (and live recordings) than on the (real) recordings.
There were (and are still) times when I feel so drained and so done with my piano study. Listening to this kind of performance/recording helps remind me that music IS all about communication. Not just classical music but all kinds and all genres. These little moments help inspire me to still continue doing what I do especially when I have doubts on pursuing a musical career."
ShanShan Ding is an MM in Vocal Arts in the studio of Mark and Sadie Rucker. She received her DMA in piano performance in Fall 2019. Her piano goddess is her primary advisor, Margarita Shevchenko.
Rachmaninoff's C Minor Prelude No.2 op.3, performed by Emil Gielels
"Something about this music just hits my soul, as if it is off like a shot. The simplicity of the motif or theme intertwines with sophisticated harmonic planning. The sessions travel from the murmuring monologue, the waterfall-like middle passage, leading to the triumphant recap. The ending is like icing on the cake, leaving a Yin-Yang question. The scenery created by Rachmaninoff is beyond words, as magnificent and philosophical as it could be. Period."
Jiwon Han is a first year DMA student in Performance and Collaborative Piano. He recently won 4th prize in the Teresa Carreno Master Piano Competition where he was also awarded a special prize for his performance of the Ibero-American composition - Villa-Lobos - Impressões Seresteiras.
Beethoven Choral Fantasy Op. 80, perfromed by Daniel Barenboim and the New Philharmonia Orchestra.
"I want to say something about Beethoven Choral Fantasie first. I think it is one of the great masterful works in the piano repertoire.
In terms of music, this work is noted as a kind of forerunner to the later Ninth Symphony as both works have the same format, orchestra with choir, and the choral tune is very similar. Actually, the chord progression is exactly the same.
From the beginning to the end, the musical context and development are amazing. Especially in the ending part with the choir, I am sure that the music brings great excitement and a thrilling sensation to the listeners.
From the piano point of view, there is a majestic cadenza-like or complete solo introduction, many spots like concertos; conversations with an orchestra. Also, there are various kinds of chamber things like accompaniment for a single instrument or a singer and playing with string quartet or wind quartet, as well as choir.
I think this piece requires and explores all aspects of playing the piano.
When I was in high school, there was a concert for this piece. I was a pianist for the choir, and I had to learn this piece through rehearsals.
When I first watched this video, I was completely overwhelmed. There was everything in the video: One of the world’s greatest pianists, greatest orchestra, choir, and the greatest music from the greatest composer in history. I do not have much to say about the rendition. It’s just fabulous.
Barenboim has little short arms and fingers. But he seems to overcome for the physical weakness. Rather his playing is always very bold and convincing with his unique interpretation. Although sometimes his playing is too free or subjective, still, he is definitely one of the top artists in the world. Besides, his conducting is extremely powerful.
As I am interested in conducting — I mean, someday, as a beginning — I am dreaming to perform some concertos by my own conducting. This video is a great inspiration for me."
Anqi Huang is a freshman student from China. She is in the Honors College and is enjoying everything MSU.
Only the Winds (14:27–19:50) by Ólafur Arnalds, performed by Ólafur Arnalds and the Sydney Chamber Orchestra
"Ólafur Arnalds has long been my favorite contemporary composer. For me, the language in his music talks about an extreme sincerity toward our mother nature in a calm, peaceful way. It often brings me to the destinations wherever I could have dreamed of. The genuine emotions that leak soberly from every single note is something I truly have asked for under the chaos of this modern world.
My soul was rinsed after every time that I listened to 'Only The Winds.' As if it can freeze the time, tons of my deepest memories were gently revealed in my head during the performance. I can breathe the summer air during one of the long nights when I was only eight. I saw the stars twinkling above at the dawn that I first left home four years ago. I felt a piece of snowflake stopped on my hand, then thawed into water in the winter in East Lansing. Then suddenly, I flied into the sky. I flied over buildings, lakes and mountains. I flied over all the memories I have: warm, cold, bittersweet, and those silently playing in my mind. All of them soon became a vast, immense sea under an eternal violet sky. As the last note being played, I closed this book of time and left it in the corner until the next chapter is written.
Spanish composer Federico Mompou once said: 'When I smell a flower, I don’t think about how it was cultivated. I like to listen to music the same way.' For the same reason, I was given an ability to learn this world from its original color and texture listening to Ólafur Arnalds — a way that we barely lost in modern days, but accompanies the most with our hearts."
Soyeon Kang is originally from Korea and earned her Masters degree from Boston University. She is currently a third year DMA student studying with Margarita Shevchenko.
Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15 performed by Vladimir Horowitz.
"This video is one of his very last performances, and I think it is a great privilege for us living in the 21st century to watch the recital of the greatest artist of the 20th century on YouTube. Through this performance, we will be able to experience his artistic aspects and musical depth.
I am now learning this piece, and this recording is the best for me because I feel like he is telling something through the piano to depict every scene even though the piece does not have any lyrics.
This video is masterful and magical!"
Hee Jeong Kim
Hee Jeong Kim, piano, is a solo and collaborative pianist based in California. As a solo pianist, Hee Jeong has given numerous notable performances, including "Hammer Klavier" Sonata at the Beethoven Marathon, held by Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She was also recently invited to perform a duo faculty recital for piano & cello at Grinnell College, Iowa.
As a collaborative pianist, Hee Jeong has led numerous musicians with diverse instruments to first place prizes at major competitions, including the Kankakee International Piano Concerto Competition and Toledo Symphony Young Artists Competition.
Hee Jeong Kim graduated from Yewon School and Seoul Arts High School. She received a Bachelor of Music from the Ewha Womans University and a Master of Music from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Currently, she is in the last year of her DMA at Michigan State University.
12 Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" by W.A.Mozart, performed by Myung-hoon Chung.
"This YouTube link is a video of Myung-hoon Chung who is a great conductor and pianist playing 12 Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" by W.A.Mozart. I like this video because of his way of interpreting resolutions at the end of each phrase and making the repeated section of variation sound differently from the one before. His playing transfers piano music to opera performance. So charming!"
Dmitri Kristalinsky is pursuing DMA in Piano Performance under the guidance of Prof. Margarita Shevchenko. He is in his last year of study in the program.
First Piano Sonata by Sergei Rachmaninoff, performed by Mikhail Pletnev.
"If you don't listen to the whole thing, at least give a listen to the first two pieces: the famous prelude and an Elegy by Rachmaninoff. It's amazing how thought-through Pletnev's performance is. I really admire the clarity of every line, every layer, every phrase. In terms of differentiated sound, and - especially - in terms of time. It's as though he listens to and controls every single string: how the sound begins and how it fades. Isn't THAT a true mastery?"
Minhae Lee is a DMA student in Piano Performance and Collaborative Piano in the studios of Deborah Moriarty and Zhihua Tang. She has served on the faculty at Alma College as well as the MSU Community Music Schools in East Lansing and Detroit. She has also served in an adjunct capacity on the summer piano faculty at MSU.
Arabesque in C major, Op. 18 by Schumann, performed by Emil Gilels
"Robert Schumann’s Arabesque is a beautiful and wistful longing music. Schumann wrote this piece in 1839 when he was 29 years old, before he married Clara. This is just beautiful and so touching to listen to, but it is famous for being difficult to play well due to the theme’s repetition.
The form is A-B-A-C-A rondo form, so the lyrical main theme “A section” appears three times in seven minutes between contrasting moods (B and C - Florestan; passionate and intense side of Schumann) and at the end, the beautifully pensive Epilog (Eusebius; Schumann’s delicate side). Because of repetitions (“A section”), pianists need to find appropriate and balanced expressions, such as tenderness and passion. For me, Schumann’s music is always hard to play, especially voicing on various ranges.
I found this recording two years ago when I was learning this piece with professor Deborah Moriarty. There are performances by Horowitz, Yefim Bronfman, two completely different performances by Rubinstein, and many others. They are all beautiful and have their personalities, but Emil Gilels’s rendition is what I prefer to listen and the best I have heard. Needless to say, he has a deep, gorgeous sound, and I love his rubato, including tempo and timing. The way he expresses the feeling is very natural and sometimes it sounds even simple and pure, while it is so touching and moving.
His interpretation shows the balance of his firm understanding of Schumann’s romantic irony and strictness of the structure. It sounds like magic for me because of his beautiful rubato. All the voices he played differently, and especially the bass line is so enjoyable to listen to.
Those things were what I realized when I was studying this piece. Now I just sit back and enjoy his beautiful playing. It touches my heart and comforts me a lot. So, I put this on my playlist and I play it when I need to be relaxed and consoled. I do not get these feelings very much from the studio recording. This is a memorable performance for me."
Subin Lee is in her final year of DMA studies with Margarita Shevchenko. She is from Korea and earned her master’s from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
Beethoven Sonata No.28 in A major, Op.101 performed, by Richard Goode.
"This sonata is one of my favorite late sonatas of Beethoven. Here Beethoven is really stretching the expressive envelope of the sonata form, infusing the individual movements with more emotion and indeed characters. This sonata gives me a glimpse of heaven and the warmest feeling especially the beginning of the 1st movement.
I picked this video because I really think Richard Goode is a good interpreter of Beethoven and I liked the way he played this sonata. He played with sensitivity and attention to voicing which created the natural phrasing. Very beautifully played!"
Ling Lo has received many awards in several piano competitions, including International Bohemia Metro Cup, Taiwan Cultural Cup Music Competition. While serving on the faculty at SUNY Pottsdam as an Instructor. She is also completing her DMA in Piano Performance and Collaborative Piano at MSU in the studios of Deborah Moriarty and Zhihua Tang.
Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 30, Op. 110, performed by Hélène Grimaud
"Hélène Grimaud, a French classical pianist, has received great praise by critics for her willingness to reinterpret works and explore innovatory approaches. She once said, “A wrong note that is played out of élan (eagerness), you hear it differently than one that is played out of fear.” Her uniqueness and eagerness in music has earned her a very controversial reputation. Brian Levine, the executive director of the Glenn Gould Foundation, sees in Hélène Grimaud a resemblance to Glenn Gould. He said, “she has this willingness to take a piece of music apart and free herself from the general body of practice that has grown up around it.”
Meanwhile, she is often challenged by critics for her personal style of playing and boldness in reinterpretation. Furthermore, some critics comment that she is too commercialized in album presentation and by the way she collaborates with other artists in different areas although it has aided her success in advertising strategy and creative collaboration. She has released CDs with themes, such as “Water”, “Memory”, and “Credo”. The selections of those albums are not necessarily about music but herself, as an artist who is eager to present something creative.
I admire her as an innovator in music and risk taker. Essentially, I think music is very personal. It can be alive and very powerful, because the character and spirit is so present. That is what I, as a musician, am looking for. Her playing shows her strong personality and strong will. Maybe this way to approach performance would not fit for every genre of music, but I truly admire and respect her courage and devotion to being true to herself as an artist. That’s what she stands for and why she stands out.
As a listener, you might not find preciseness, or excellence of technique in her playing, but you will hear her own approach to music, her strong personality, incredible intensity, and the unique control of timing and phrasing. Hélène Grimaud is an innovator in music who wants to present herself instead of anyone else. Some might argue that her interpretation is too personal as well as not true to the composer, narcissistic in a way. I think that’s why her playing is so attractive and compelling, because you hear Hélène" Grimaud and no one else."
Gyumi Rha was born in South Korea and started her piano studies at the age of five. She has performed as concerto soloist with the Sungshin Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Symphony Orchestra of the Republic of Tatarstan and the MU Philharmonic Orchestra. She studied at the Beijing International Music Festival and Academy in China, as well as at the Centro Studi Carlo Della Giacoma in Todi, Italy. She is pursuing a DMA in piano performance with Deborah Moriarty at Michigan State University.
Arirang Rhapsody by Jisu-Lee, performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra & Lee-jisu
"I was interested in crossover music between Korean traditional music and western music. Arirang is a representative song of Korean traditional folk music, and it is transcribed in various orchestra versions in many countries. This video that I would like to introduce is one of the orchestra versions with piano. The intro, which is totally new and is not related to this song, is very energetic then a transcription of Arirang melody is played alternately between orchestra and piano. I feel joy listening to a different style of melody that is simple and beautiful. Also, it was interesting to watch the orchestra and piano performed remotely."
Sin Yee Yap
Sin Yee Yap is pursuing a doctorate degree under Associate Professor of Piano Margarita Shevchenko. She completed her Master of Music degree and Graduate Diploma at New England Conservatory. She performed recitals in various countries and collaborated with orchestras, and she won the MSU Piano Honors Competition in December 2019.
Nikolai Lugansky's recital from March 22, 2020, performing works by Beethoven, Franck, Rachmaninoff, and Bach.
"I would like to share this recital by Nikolai Lugansky. This recital was performed a few months ago without an audience.
I thought the recital is great to share with all of you, especially the selected Preludes by Rachmaninoff that were performed magically, despite no audience in the hall. It speaks to my heart a lot, and it brings much comfort, especially during this difficult period."