June 11, 2012

5 Questions with Lim Yan (Part I)


The SotA (School of the Arts) concert hall was abuzz with activity last friday evening, where pianists, musicians,  and fans of Beethoven gathered to watch local pianist Lim Yan perform the first and last piano concertos of Beethoven. This concert is the first part of a (rather ambitions!) three-concert series which explores the origins of the Romantic concerto, looking into the middle period of Beethoven’s life, when he was at his most prolific.

With the first and the last concertos already performed, what’s in between waits to be seen. Plink, Plonk, Plunk catches up with soloist Yan as he prepares to play the second, third, fourth and triple concertos of Beethoven in the concerts to come.

Hi Yan! Congratulations on a successful concert last night! You haven’t performed two concertos in a single evening before, how do you feel about it?  

Exhausted! Also relieved, that the first concert is over, and the experience will give me strength for the next two! 

If there was one thing you could change about last night’s performance, what would it be? 

Well, things always happen in performance which have never happened in practice and rehearsal. But that is part of the excitement of live performance – that every performance is different! I was once told that one should “be a perfectionist during practice and a pragmatist during performance”. 

In truth though, I am quite satisfied with how the concert went as a whole and apart from a couple of missed notes and moments, I don’t think I would change anything. 

Now, on to your cadenzas – I thought they were brilliant! You captured the “Zeitgeist” of the early romantic period with the techniques used and the keys chosen, all in the style of Beethoven.. Why did you choose to write your own? 

I’d love to take credit for the one in the Emperor! But actually every note of that is by Beethoven; the ‘cadenza’ is written into the score and in fact his very specific instructions are “do not play a cadenza here”. 

But that touches on the reason why I decided to write cadenzas for the other four concertos. The ‘cadenza’ passage in the Emperor was composed at the same time as the concerto; it was conceived of as one organic whole. The standard cadenzas for the other concertos were written much later, sometimes up to ten years after the composition of the concerto itself; and there is already a discernible shift in musical style and language. 

So I was wondering what to do about this ‘problem’, when I heard Ashkenazy’s recording of the second concerto with Solti, where he plays (I think) his own cadenza, which to me sounded much more in keeping with the rest of the concerto. I guess you could say I took inspiration from that. 

So.. Besides the already-written-out cadenza in the Emperor, you had 4 others to work on. How did you go about it? 

For me it wasn’t an orderly process – there was some ‘doodling’ on the piano, playing around with the themes from the concerto; careful study of the score to look for themes and motifs which I might use; researching other pianists’ and composers’ cadenzas for fresh ideas and insights; etc. For instance, the ending to the cadenza for the first concerto is, um, “borrowed” from Barenboim; some other passages are from Beethoven himself; and for the second concerto I am actually pretty much going to play Ashkenazy’s cadenza, to the best of my transcribing abilities. 

The upcoming concert features the 3rd and 4th concertos, both of which are rather daunting – the emotional tension in the 3rd and the technical difficulty of the 4th (Beethoven himself referred to it as being difficult), is this the most challenging concert to prepare for?  

The fourth concerto was one that was most elusive for me when I was preparing it, but I have gotten more and more comfortable with it over the course of rehearsing with the orchestra. I don’t know about most challenging – to me the entire cycle is challenging – but I know that I am looking forward to it!

Join The Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO) in the remaining two of this special concert series on 13 and 16 June at SOTA Concert Hall, featuring Lim Yan in a first-ever “concerto marathon”! Student tickets are available at $10. Get your tickets from Gatecrash now!

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