Review: Joyce Yang astounds at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music

“Astonishingly good” was the reaction after Korean pianist Joyce Yang’s performance at Newcastle Conservatorium of Music on Thursday night.

Talk in the car home revolved around whether it was possibly the best Musica Viva concert we’d witnessed.

Certainly right up there as far as pianists go, which is saying something given Newcastle Musica Viva has hosted the likes of Stephen Hough and Angela Hewitt in recent times as part of the MV’s international touring recital calendar. 

In the parlance of State of Origin, Yang brought it, taking on a willing program of big hits head on. And I mean big.

Rachmaninoff  – (Prelude in G-sharp minor, op 32 no 12 (1910),  Prelude in D major, op 23 no 4, Prelude in C-sharp minor, op 3 no 2.  

Janacek –  Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 I Pˇredtucha (Foreboding) II Smrt (Death)

Liszt – Rhapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody), S254 

By intermission, a friend commented  it felt like the audience had been  a man down repelling set after set on their try line, and there was still another half to go.

That sense of onslaught alluded in equal parts to a program of classical music “bangers” and Yang’s   immersive performance style.

The body movements and facial expressions relay intensity as she navigates her way through incredibly complex pieces at pace by memory.

Amazing to witness, and marvel as she emerges from each piece with a smile and a chat.

She is in Australia heading up her first national Musica Viva recital tour having carved out a reputation on the world stage as one of the leading pianists of the new wave.

After the break she premiered a sonata by 24-year-old Australian composer Elizabeth Younan, commissioned for  Musica Viva by  Julian Burnside AO QC.

Inspired after Younan saw Yang play Rach in New Zealand last year, the piece was suitably eye and ear opening in terms of composition, technicality and delivery.

From there it was onwards into 32 minutes of Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B minor, and then rapturous applause.

To bring herself back from where ever a person goes when they take on Liszt, Yang wrapped it up with a beautifully lyrical encore of Gershwin’s The Man I Love.

Truly an astonishing concert that will have people talking for years.

The next Newcastle Musica Viva show sees Taiwanese violinist Ray Chen teaming up with French pianist Julien Quentin  on August 9 at Harold Lobb Concert Hall to present works by Beethoven, Grieg, Hindson, Falla and Monti.