Showing posts with label Hiroko Yamazaki. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hiroko Yamazaki. Show all posts

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Remembering Victims of Gun Violence Through Moving Spirituals Performance

By Christine Facciolo

Countertenor Augstine (Gus) Mercante offered some perspectives on his long — and sometimes complicated — relationship with the African American spiritual in the program notes of his March 31 concert, There's a Man Going 'Round: Remembering Victims of Gun Violence, as part of The Arts at Trinity series at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wilmington.


He first fell in love with the repertoire when at age 16 he auditioned for All-State Chorus. Burleigh’s Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child was the audition piece. Years later, he submitted the work to fill the English Art Song requirement for a voice competition and was shocked when one of the judges told him that white singers shouldn’t sing spirituals in a concert setting.

Countertenor Gus Mercante accompanied by pianist
Hiroko Yamazaki. Photo courtesy of Gus Mercante.
Fast forward to the summer of 2006. Mercante was studying at the Mozarteum when he got an invitation from internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry to sing for her in her apartment. After they sang for each other, he asked her if she though white people should be sing spirituals. She looked right at him and said: “Anyone with a soul can sing a spiritual.”

Mercante certainly has soul, plus a robust high male voice of unique strength and deliberate, rhapsodic lyricism and expression. Mercante does not just sing a song, he brings it to life. (Note: If you haven’t seen him perform a comic English opera with Brandywine Baroque, definitely put it on your to-do list.)

The program, dedicated to the victims of gun violence, opened on an appropriately somber and sorrowful note with two selections from Bach Cantatas: Wir mussen durch viel Trubsal and Kreuz und Krone sind verbunden.

Mercante raised the specter of death with a dynamic rendering of the Schubert Lied Der Tod und das Madchen, with dramatic vocal characterizations of Death and the Maiden.

Less dramatic, but equally powerful, were Faure’s setting of the Verlaine poem "Clair de lune,” Nocturne Op. 43, No. 2 — kudos to Mercante for including this much-neglected song — and Schubert’s Im Abendrot, all of which juxtaposed the melancholy of the characters with the beauty and grandeur of the moon and the sunset.

The first half of the concert wrapped up with two contemporary selections: the resigned simplicity of William Bolcom’s Waitin’ (from Cabaret Songs) and H. Leslie Adams’ Prayer (from Nightsongs) which Mercante delivered with maximum emotional impact through dynamic contrast and textual clarity.

The second half of the program, which was devoted to spirituals, opened with Mercante processing into the sanctuary singing the traditional Guide My Feet. The set included Burleigh’s Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, which sparked Mercante’s interest in the Negro spiritual. This set contained some very moving performances, notably a powerful rendering of the apocryphal There’s a Man Going ‘Round and Crucifixion, which nearly brought some audience members — including this one — to tears.

And if you closed your eyes, you might have sworn it was the late Marian Anderson singing Burleigh’s My Lord, What a Morning.

The concert concluded on a triumphant note with the glorious Ride On, King Jesus.

Mercante was ably supported by Hiroko Yamazaki at the piano, while Sherry Goodill and Marion Yager Hamermesh of the Hanover Dance Collective brought visual interest and kinetic energy to select songs.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Pyxis Lights Up Market Street Music Festival Concert Series

By Christine Facciolo
The Sunday, October 14, 2018 concert by Pyxis Piano Quartet — as part of Market Street Music's Festival Concert series — at Wilmington’s First & Central Presbyterian Church revealed once again the abundance of talent within each member of this laudable ensemble.  Members include Luigi Mazzocchi, violin; Amy Leonard, viola; Jennifer Jie Jin, cello and Hiroko Yamazaki, piano.


This 90-minute program offered works from the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, including two of the most demanding in the repertoire: Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478 and Mendelssohn’s Piano Quarter in F minor, No. 2, Op. 2.

Mozart seems to have invented the piano quartet. There are no examples of the genre among his contemporaries or immediate predecessors, including the very inventive Haydn. He left only these two work but they count among the very best in the repertoire.

Mozart’s G minor quartet grew out of a commission from the Viennese publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister for three such works. The remaining two were canceled when the publisher felt the finished work was too difficult for the amateur musician 
 the usual market for keyboard-based chamber music.

Pyxis Piano Quartet (L-R): Amy Leonard, violaHiroko Yamazaki, piano; Jennifer Jie Jin, cello Luigi Mazzocchi, violin.
The quartet features true chamber music equality of part-writing, juxtaposing concerto-like passages in the piano with others in which the instrument fades and blends in with the strings in a lively interplay. The musicians effectively kept up the momentum throughout a cliffhanger of a development section which often hints at a resolution only to give way to other material. The second movement captivated with the sheer beauty of the playing, while the ensemble’s gentle handling of the phrasing in the finale provided a joyous conclusion to this darkly dramatic work.

Pianist Hiroko Yamazaki assumed an even more virtuosic role in Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet, while the string players offered less flamboyant bits, albeit ones that carried the thematic material. Leonard’s viola got to show off its high register during the exposition of the second theme. Yamazaki again displayed virtuosic technique in the rolling figurations throughout the Adagio movement which exhibited pure early Romanticism. The strings at last assumed an (almost) equal footing with their keyboard companion in the whiplash final movement.

The concert opened with a fine performance by Mazzocchi and Leonard of Martinu’s Three Madrigals for the (seemingly) austere combination of violin and viola. Each artist exaggerated the sounds of their instruments: Mazzocchi played up the brightness of the violin while Leonard reveled in the richness and warmth of the viola. 


It would have been tempting to blend the sounds but this approach maintained the independent voices when it mattered most. The result was what sounded like a unique instrument with a remarkable range of timbre and pitch. The two instruments matched when in the same range, establishing unity while preserving the individual capabilities of both. This was exploited to maximum effect during the playful competition of the many imitative passages.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pyxis Brings Beethoven & Faure to Life on Market

Pyxis Piano Quartet performs at Market Street Music.
Photo by Joe Gawinski.
By Christine Facciolo
Market Street Music welcomed spring and Pyxis Piano Quartet to its Festival Concert series on Sunday, March 19, 2017, which paired Beethoven’s String Trio in G major with Faure’s Piano Quartet in C minor.

The Opus 9 string trios offer a fascinating portrait of the young composer bursting with ideas as he took a musical form born as the baroque trio sonata and gave it new life as only he could. But as striking as they are, they represent the last gasp for a form that would soon be eclipsed by the string quartet.

Pyxis wisely chose the first Trio of Op. 9, a gem from its opening note to its last. This performance of the longest and most difficult of the trios earned the ensemble a well-deserved ovation. The opening and closing movements were technically perfect in every dimension. The wonderful slow movement with its pastoral theme in the distant key of E major received a most moving, heart-longing treatment. The breadth of expressiveness was especially remarkable considering the movement’s simplicity of form.

A proper contrast to the Adagio came with the buoyancy of the Scherzo and then with even more vitality a throw-caution-to-the-wind finale. All in all, a fitting performance of one of Beethoven’s “best works so far.”

Violist Amy Leonard introduced the Faure Piano Quartet by telling the audience that while she and her colleagues couldn’t offer Paris in springtime, they could bring a bit of the city into First & Central Presbyterian Church.

Leonard also noted that while the work is cast in a minor key, it’s a “happy minor,” with a positive tone albeit with some hints in the slow movement of the turmoil in Faure’s personal life at the time of composition.

Leonard contextualized the work by noting that just as Beethoven was a transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic periods, Faure stood at the crossroads of the Romantic and modern eras. Indeed, Romanticism and its doleful heroics are left behind in this work. The first movement is a fluid blending of energy and lyricism. The high-spirited and virtuosic Scherzo delights with pizzicato-pricked perpetuum mobile fantasy. The grand Adagio imbues profound passion with classical restraint and balance. A soaring Allegro caps all with a shimmering major/minor gaiety.

Balance, ensemble, superb intonation and sensitive interpretation characterized this performance. None of the loud passages were overplayed. When one player had a solo passage, they came out just enough then returned to their dynamic place.

Special honors go to pianist Hiroko Yamazaki. Pianists have a special balance problem when playing in quartets because the sound of their instrument is so much fuller than a single string instrument. Not so here. Yamazaki was always at the correct level. Quite remarkable!

See www.marketstreetmusicde.org

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Palooza of Piano Performance at the Music School

By Christine Facciolo

The Music School of Delaware showcased its pianistic talents on November 18 with a concert titled— aptly enough — “PianoPalooza.”

The evening also served to honor faculty members with 20 or more years of service to the School. Artists on this program celebrating that milestone included David Brown (48 years), Donna DeLaurentis (30+ years) and Hiroko Yamazaki (23 years).

Also taking the stage Wednesday night were Jennifer Nicole Campbell, Dr. Oleg Maslov, Liliya Maslov and rising star Douglas Nie, a 10th grader at Wilmington Friends School who studies piano with David Brown.

DeLaurentis and Yamazaki opened the program with a performance of Robert Schumann’s Pictures from the East (Bilder aus Osten) composed in 1848. This is an engaging set of variations on a theme in six consecutive vignettes that share a strong internal infrastructure. This is not a piece one hears often, but DeLaurentis and Yamazaki made a strong case for it with a reading that was full-bodied in sound yet dramatically sublime.

David Brown offered works by Beethoven, Brahms and Brown, apologizing to Mr. Bach for the apparent slight. Brown gave a clean and well-articulated reading of Beethoven’s Seven Variations on God Save the Queen, the British national anthem. Most impressive was his ability to make the melody “come alive” while bringing out the secondary notes in the left hand.

Brahms described the intermezzi of Op. 117 as “three cradle songs for my sorrows,” and Brown is brilliant as he brings out the inventiveness and sublime lyricism of the third Intermezzo in C-sharp minor with an ease that belies its technical difficulty.

Brown kicked things up several notches with a performance of his Rondo Fantasia, a piece of rapidly changing moods and wild arpeggios.

Dr. Oleg Maslov’s prodigious gifts allowed him to excel in the pyrotechnics of Liszt’s two concert etudes: La Leggierezza and Waldesrauschen. The former — Liszt’s most Chopin-esque work — was played with a feverish ardor while one could hear the rustling of the trees in the piano work of the latter.

Douglas Nie took the stage following intermission, capably demonstrating why he has earned the reputation of the School’s “rising star.” The fifteen-year-old offered works by Griffes (Lake at Evening) and Rachmaninoff (Polichinelle). Lake at Evening is not an easy piece to play without getting excessively Romantic. But Nie’s judicious reading conjured up all the exotic imagery suggested by the title, filling the concert hall with mystery. By contrast, his performance of Rachmaninoff was appealing and passionately Romantic, marked by a technical fluency beyond his years.

Jennifer Campbell’s superior technique and interpretation was most evident in her performance of Chopin’s Ballade in G minor — one of the most difficult of the repertoire. Her attack was strong from the first bold chords and built to a series of climactic arpeggios that brought the haunting central melody to life.

Dr. Oleg and Liliya Maslov explored the rich diversity of sound possible with two pianos. Both pianists executed the virtuosic figurations of Ravel’s La Valse with ease. As the waltz continued, becoming jarring and almost barbarous in intensity, Dr. Maslov took the lead, steering the frenzied dance through sudden, impulsive spasms. The duo succeeded in adding a thunderous splendor to the sensuous theme. Equally impressive was Liliya Maslov’s ability to turn her own pages while in the throes of this thrilling performance.

See www.musicschoolofdelaware.org.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Music & Pet Lovers Unite: Mozart, Debussy & Beach to benefit DHA!

This event gets "four paws up" from DEWEY the ART DOG (who is also a rescue)...

Delaware Humane Association is excited to present an evening for animal lovers and music lovers alike! Violinist Andrew Irvin and pianist Hiroko Yamazaki will perform masterpieces for violin and piano of Mozart, Debussy and American romantic composer Amy Beach. The performance is on Tuesday, July 7, 7:30pm at First & Central Presbyterian Church, 1100 N. Market Street in downtown Wilmington.

A free-will offering will be accepted, and all proceeds will benefit Delaware Humane Association. Click here for the recital program and more information about the musicians.



Monday, February 6, 2012

Pyxis Quartet at the Mainstay


It is so hard to get tickets for the Pyxis piano quartet Kentmere Concerts at the Delaware Art Museum that I traveled to Rock Hall, Maryland to hear them play in the Hedgelawn Classical Music Series at the Mainstay.

The Mainstay, a restored 105-year-old grocery store, may not be the ideal venue for a classical chamber series acoustically, but the homey chairs and sofas, the amiable and knowledgeable concert hosts and the charming atmosphere made up for the informality of the setting, and the Mainstay organization has their own small, well-maintained Kawai grand.

The quartet’s program was both ambitious and eclectic. A little known set of four pieces which Richard Strauss wrote in his teens provided the quartet with an opportunity to create characterizations - from the cello/piano introduction of the St»Āndchen (serenade) to the Middle Eastern rhythms and bowings for the Arabian Dance.

The second piece, the quartet by Joaquin Turina, put the string players to the test. Meredith Amado played very high violin notes effortlessly, with beautiful intonation and control. Jie Jen’s cello had a wonderfully rounded vibrato in the very romantic solo parts. Ms. Jen can make her cello soar to the extremely high registers required in the Turina with great ease.

The Piano Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 41 by Camille Saint-Saens was a showpiece for pianist Hiroko Yamazaki who glided through the complex fugue of the Andante maestoso ma con moto at a very high speed. Amy Leonard’s viola playing was a beautiful middle voice in the fugal writing for strings and piano. The weaving in and out of voices by each musician provided a beautiful tapestry of sound.

If you can get tickets for the Kentmere Series Concert at the Delaware Art Museum on Friday , February 17, this program is well worth hearing. The Thursday, February 16 concert has been sold out for weeks.

See www.delart.org

See www.pyxispianoquartet.com

Monday, April 19, 2010

Subs and heros

When you go to the Delaware Symphony, they do not list the extra musicians they hire for a performance. Last Saturday, I was delighted to see pianist Hiroko Yamazaki ready to play for the Kurt Weill Little Threepenny Music (Suite from the Threepenny Opera) – in other words, the jazzy suite which includes songs like Mac the Knife.


Most of the instruments had been cleared from the stage and Ms. Yamazaki ripped off ragtime/honkytonk sounds that blended seamlessly with the trombone, banjo, guitar and accordion. For a moment, it seemed we were in pre-war Berlin with Sally Bowles in a Kneipe enjoying a St. Pauli Girl in dim light.


But in the next piece, the pianist turned into an expert vibrationist, playing single sustained notes and holding the pedal so the plaintive string sounds in the Symphony of sorrowful songs by Henrik Mikolaj Gorecki could seek their reflected harmonics from the soundboard of the piano – a mysteriously rousing effect.


Whernever Ms. Yamazaki is playing – be it accompanying Twinkle twinkle, little star in a beginner’s Suzuki instrumental recital or zipping into a Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, she puts her heart into it.


She is a hero, not just a sub.