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"Here's to the pianist H. Hsu.
There's nothing that she cannot do.
Sing, do the Twist,
Play a piece of Franz Liszt
And Chopin and Debussy, too."
Thanks, Garrison Keillor
Oil painting by Wang LingYou
DO IT video 2020 coming soon
Colorado Public Radio 6/13/17
Xiamen Evening News 11/15/16
Sharpsandflatirons.com Blog 5/7/2015
The Scen3 2/10/2014
Opus Colorado 5/12/2013
Boulder Weekly 5/9/13
Denver Post 3/13/12
Denver Post 2/10/2011
Denver Post 2/04/2011
Denver Post 1/2/2011
Opus Colorado 10/9/2010
In Other Words: Testimimonials from Students
Testimonial- from a piano student 1/30/17
By Peter Alexander
Next on the program will be Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2—actually the first to be written, while the composer was still studying at the Warsaw Academy and first performed in 1830. It is not modeled on the heroic concerto of Beethoven and the later 19th century, but is more lyrical, decorative and free-flowing.
The concerto was the choice of the soloist, Hsing-ay Hsu. “I think that every great composer has his own voice and there is a lot of poetry in Chopin. It’s emotionally very approachable, and for an audience to experience that kind of soaring and that kind of blissful energy is a great experience.”
Poetry suggests a certain freedom for the soloist, which Hsu identifies as the greatest challenge of the concerto. “What I find really challenging is that on one hand it has to feel completely free and improvised, and on the other hand the rhythmic integrity is very important,” she says. “There’s the sense of very long-reaching lines and having that flexibility within this larger structure is something that is really exciting and really challenging at the same time.”
That flexibility is in turn a challenge for the conductor, who has to follow the soloist without constraining her expressivity. “The pianist can take all of these elaborations on every phrase, with a lot of freedom if they want to, so the rubato (alteration of tempo) is going to challenge any conductor to make sure they play together,” Saless says.
Because he wrote the concerto before leaving Poland, Chopin did not have the Parisian drawing room in mind. In fact, Hsu hears a lot of the composer’s native culture in the music.
“I think of the third movement as a mazurka,” she says, referring to a Polish folk dance. “You might not dance to it because it’s quite complex music, but I think that understanding the rhythm is crucial to the performance, and having that feeling of lifting your dress up and twirling and all that is part of the character of the third movement.
“I think it’s music of the people. It’s a movement that’s meant to be a joyful family gathering.”
Denver Young Artists Orchestra at Boettcher Hall
A review by Robin McNeil
Sunday, February 9, I attended an absolutely tremendous concert at Boettcher Hall presented by the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Wes Kenney and Maestra Javan Carson. It featured all five of the orchestras that are under the aegis of the DYAO. I cannot say this strongly enough: the musicians in the DYAO do not comprise an organization that sounds like a typical young high school orchestra. These students are absolutely amazing, and they clearly spend a great deal of time practicing their instrument and sharing an obvious love for music.the Denver Young Artists Orchestra performed the Piano Concerto in G Major by Maurice Ravel. They were joined onstage by Colorado’s own Hsing-Ay Hsu because the scheduled Italian pianist Alessandro Deljavan had to cancel his performance due to problems obtaining a visa. Certainly everyone is aware that Ms. Hsu is on the faculty at CU in Boulder, and is the wife of composer Daniel Kellogg. It was an incredibly fortunate circumstance that Hsing-ay Hsu was able to do the stand-in performance. She has performed this piece before, of course, but such a demanding piece is difficult to keep in one’s repertoire in order to perform immediately without warning. Nonetheless, she gave a breathtakingly wonderful performance, using the music. I point that out not to be derisive, but to give her an even heartier accolade, because it seems to me that performing a concerto with an orchestra, relying on the music, would be infinitely more difficult than doing it from memory. It was also in this work that the young artists of the orchestra began to make themselves known. The woodwinds in the brass of the DYAO are absolutely sensational, and that is taking nothing away from the rest of the orchestra. But in this concerto, Ravel gives the flutes, clarinets, oboe, and trumpet a real opportunity to shine. The entire section did just that.
What amazed me most of all with this performance was the unbelievable confidence that the members of the orchestra demonstrated in performing with such a formidable pianist. Every member of the orchestra was totally focused on what they were doing, and it seemed as though they had given this kind of performance with this kind of soloist many times per year. Maestro Kenney said it best of all after the performance was over: “Hsing-ay Hsu said to me after a rehearsal that it was like playing with a professional orchestra. I responded by saying, ‘Yes, that’s what it is all about.’”
Hsing-ay Hsu’s performance was full of brightness and absolutely boundless energy. The piano was Ravel’s favorite instrument, and it is in this work that he seems to take such delight in all of its sonorous possibilities, even turning the melodic line into trills. He certainly writes that way for the brass and woodwinds as well, complete with trombone glissandi. The second movement is one of intense introspection, surprising with its haunting flute melody which was so beautifully done. The last movement, full of harp, flutes, clarinet, and bassoon, was performed far above any “youth” orchestra that I have heard. Hsing-ay Hsu is an absolutely wonderful pianist, but I have no doubt that playing with the DYAO will be a memorable experience for her. Why? Because these musicians demonstrated a remarkable reliability that was beyond their years. Yes, Maestro Kenney demands that kind of thing, but demanding reliability, and actually obtaining it, are two different propositions. The audience could not help themselves but applaud after each movement of this concerto, and when it was finished, they received a very well-deserved standing ovation.
World Class Hsing-ay Hsu and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra are stunning!
May 12, 2013, 7:38 pm OpusColorado - Robin McNeil
Following the Beethoven overture, Boulder (and world) pianist Hsing-ay Hsu joined the Boulder Chamber Orchestra in the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5 in E Flat Major, Opus 73, known as the “Emperor.”
Surely, everyone in Colorado must, by now, know who Hsing-ay Hsu is. Hsing-ay Hsu takes charge of the piano the moment she sits down. Her playing is full of confidence, and why shouldn’t it be? Consider all of her awards and concert experience. However, she also exudes true musicianship, and understanding of the composer that she is playing. I also hasten to interrupt myself here, to explain that Maestro Saless, in speaking to the audience, clarified that all of works on Saturday’s concert were going to be taken at tempos that were consistent with those of Beethoven’s era. They were faster than the tempos of today. As Hsing-ay Hsu began to play, it was clear that she was comfortable, and in full agreement with the tempos that were no doubt discussed with Maestro Bahman Saless. Her arpeggios ascending the keyboard from the opening chords of the introduction were crystal clear because of her very careful pedal use. She certainly used less pedal on the ascending arpeggios and the accompanying trills at the top than, for example, Claudio Arrau. Yet, it was wonderfully musical. I was also immediately struck with the impression that she was enjoying the Sauter piano because of its clarity of tone, though there were spots in certain registers of the keyboard that seemed a little out of tune, unlike other performances that I have heard on this particular piano. Her playing is so clean that it boggles the mind, and she has such power that it seems there is no chance that the orchestra could cover her. Her playing in the second movement was positively ethereal and dream-like. And, indeed, it is one of Beethoven’s most expressive statements in his entire output. I have often stated that it is sometimes more difficult to play slowly, concentrating on tone production and dynamic shadings, then it is to play fast and loud. Hsing-ay Hsu allowed the second movement to radiate emotion without being overly sentimental, and never once did she leave Beethoven’s style behind. The second movement has a slow transition which gets faster as it progresses, and the third movement of the concerto begins attacca (begin what follows without pausing). The tempo of the third movement was very quick indeed, but Hsing-ay Hsu filled it with the jubilance that I have not heard for some time. Once again, the members of the orchestra were watching each other carefully. The violins and cellos, which could easily see the piano keyboard, were also keeping a sharp eye on Ms. Hsu. It was a perfect example of an orchestra determined to allow the soloist and the conductor to lead them in this piece and offer both individuals all the support they could muster. It was clear that the members of this orchestra truly enjoyed playing with Hsing-ay Hsu because she is such an incredibly reliable musician.
Allow me to explain precisely what I mean by reliable. It means that the soloist not only knows where every note and rest and dynamic marking is, but is able to communicate that with eye contact and gestures with the conductor. That is mental and musical reliability, and total knowledge of the work at hand. It is the mark of experience, which is something that is difficult for the audience to understand unless they do it themselves in their own field of endeavor. Hsing-ay Hsu gave a wonderfully exciting performance of this very difficult piece, and her artistry and musical excellence were in a sphere obtained by only a few.
Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s Saless describes composer’s link to Napoleon
Photo by Jay Wong
Pianist Hsing-Ay Hsu
Tired of weird spring weather? Bahmann Saless is doing something about it.
The conductor of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) has programmed Beethoven’s Third Symphony and Fifth Piano Concerto, two popular avatars of the composer’s heroic style, for its upcoming concert (7:30 p.m. Friday, May 10, at First Congregational Church in Boulder, Saturday, May 11, in Broomfield Auditorium).
“Both of them are hopefully going to energize us for a fantastic, sunny spring!” he says, full of the optimistic energy that has made the BCO a valued part of Boulder’s classical music scene.
The symphony and concerto are featured on a program that also includes Beethoven’s overture to the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. The soloist for the concerto will be pianist Hsing-Ay Hsu, the director of the University of Colorado’s Pendulum New Music Ensemble.
Saless says the all-Beethoven program is “the perfect end to a fantastic season. Beethoven pretty much conquered every island in the musical history globe.” In fact, Saless adds, “he was not only dominant in the music world. I read somewhere that he was the most well-known person on earth during his time.”
Saless identifies two reasons for Beethoven’s dominance during his lifetime and over generations of composers after him. The first is sheer creativity: “He had the ability to completely overhaul the concept of composition and music within a few years of his life, like nobody else ever could.”
And second, “Beethoven could touch our human heart. Nobody ever came close to actually making us feel all the things that he felt: sadness, happiness, craziness, all of that, and the contrast in these feelings came together as a unified piece of music, which is absolutely incredible.”
Saless is particularly struck by the composer’s ability to manipulate his listeners’ emotions, recalling a story told by one of Beethoven’s students, Carl Czerny. Beethoven’s piano improvisations, in the salons and homes of his patrons, were “most brilliant and striking,” Czerny wrote. “He knew how to produce such an effect upon every hearer that many would break out into loud sobs.” But Beethoven often followed his most moving improvisations with raucous laughter, telling his listeners they were fools for allowing their feelings to be so easily controlled.
If Beethoven was the most famous person on earth, there was at the time another figure of equal renown: Napoleon, who dominated European political life as completely as Beethoven dominated music. It is one of the fascinating coincidences of history that Napoleon’s reign as emperor (1804–15) coincides almost exactly with Beethoven’s “middle period” (1805–15) and what is known as his heroic style.
That heroic style was launched with the Third Symphony, which is called the heroic, or “Eroica” symphony. It is a genuinely revolutionary work that was originally dedicated to Napoleon — until he declared himself emperor and Beethoven famously ripped up the dedication.
The “Eroica” was a turning point in music history as an enormous expansion of the symphony. It was longer, more intense and more dramatic than earlier symphonies.
“The grandeur of every single movement and how different they are is amazing,” Saless says. “You’ve got the heroic first movement; then you’ve got the funeral march. The third movement is rarely talked about, but it is wholly revolutionary with the concept of making you uncomfortable by being unpredictable rhythmically. That is all over the symphony, with the off-beat accents on the second and the third beats. It’s an unsettling yet very satisfying revolution.”
The Fifth Piano Concerto has its own tie to Napoleon. It is known as the “Emperor” Concerto, although Beethoven himself did not give that name. French troops were occupying Vienna at the time of the premiere, and a French officer is supposed to have shouted “Vive l’empereur” (long live the emperor) at the performance.
“The concerto is pretty much a piano concerto version of the Third Symphony,” Saless says. “First of all, it’s in the same key; second of all, it’s got the very same heroic feel and momentum. And it was again one of the these grand pieces with three completely varying movements.”
The concerto marks Saless’ first collaboration with Hsu, who, in addition to leading the new music ensemble at CU, performs widely as a piano soloist and chamber musician.
“She’s brilliant,” he says. “She’s got amazing grace and ridiculous power, which makes her perfect for doing these Beethoven concertos.”
But can Beethoven really banish bad weather? In truth, Saless seems less than certain about the weather. But about the music he has no doubts.
“It’s a dream come true for any orchestra and any conductor to get to do these pieces,” he says, “because there’s just nothing better.”
Boulder Chamber Orchestra plays at 7:30 p.m. May 10 at the First Congregational Church in Boulder, and at 7:30 p.m. May 11 at the Broomfield Auditorium. Tickets are $25. Visit http://bit.ly/BCOMay for more information.
March 13, 2012, 2:16 pm MT
Review: A unique trio, a rare piece of Tchaikovsky music
Trinity Concert Series
By Sabine Kortals, Special to The Denver Post
Three high-profile friends and collaborators — Colorado Symphony principals Yumi Hwang-Williams and Silver Ainomae, along with Hsing-ay Hsu, artistic director of Pendulum New Music at the University of Colorado-Boulder — turned in a rousing, resonant reading of the composer’s only work for piano and strings, providing the opportunity to experience their collective artistry in a more personal, intimate context.
The 45-minute chamber work cast in two sweeping movements is rarely performed, in large part because of its formidable technical demands on the musicians. . . especially the pianist. But it’s also an emotionally exhilarating ride for the artists and audience alike, and not for the faint-hearted.
In top form, violinist Hwang-Williams and cellist Ainomae delved deeply into the work’s lush lyricism, while pianist Hsu’s breathtaking virtuosity and intuitive phrasings underscored its masterful thematic variations. Throughout the sometimes songful, sometimes soulful and often grandiose passages, the well-matched trio delivered a committed and cohesive performance.
The program opened with a polished and persuasive reading of Mozart’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502. Hwang-Williams and Ainomae evoked all the grace and warmth of the elaborate work, playing off each other with ease and spontaneity.
The program then turned to Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise Op. 34, No. 14 in which Hwang-Williams, especially, captured the emotional depth and subtlety of the work’s haunting, familiar melody.
Focused piano trio makes strong debut
Posted: 02/10/2011 12:28:30 AM MST
Bring together three of the area's most prominent musicians in a new chamber ensemble, and it's bound to cause a stir on the local classical scene.
That's exactly what has happened with the just-formed Hwang-Ainomäe-Hsu Piano Trio, which made its debut Wednesday evening before a nearly sold-out audience at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada.
The group is composed of two leaders in the Colorado Symphony, concertmaster YumiHwang-Williams and principal cellist Silver Ainomäe, and pianist Hsing-ay Hsu, who heads the University of Colorado at Boulder's Pendulum New Music Series.
Despite their many other responsibilities, it was clear from their focused, well-rehearsed performance that the three are fully committed to this new venture.
The evening culminated with one of the most beloved masterpieces of the chamber repertoire, Antonín Dvorák's six-movement Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90, "Dumky."
Its memorable nickname is the plural of "dumka," a Slavic folk song with a pervasive air of melancholia that is relieved with moments of calm and bursts of exuberance.
The threesome delivered a lively, absorbing interpretation, embracing the Eastern European flavor of this appealingly folk-tinged, dance- driven music.
Hwang-Williams has never sounded better, bringing a suitably gypsy-like flair to her spirited playing, and she was ideally matched by Ainomäe, with his deep-hued tone and soulful intensity. Hsu effectively complemented them, with a deft, sure touch.
All three are strong individual performers, but they displayed the kind of teamwork that any successful chamber group needs, with the three intently listening and responding to each other.
The evening's first half consisted of what might best be described as musical appetizers, duets that showcased different combinations of the three musicians.
A highlight was a suitably earthy, seductive version of Astor Piazzolla's "Le Grand Tango" for Cello and Piano.
The concert was part of Second Tuesdays at Trinity, a welcome new monthly classical series at the church.
arts and entertainment
Top Denver-area musicians form Hwang-Ainomäe-Hsu Piano Trio
Posted: 02/04/2011 01:00:00 AM MST
Pianist, Hsing-ay Hsu, during a practice session at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada Saturday morning. (THE DENVER POST | ANDY CROSS)
With three of the area's highest-profile classical musicians as its founding members, the new Hwang-Ainomäe- Hsu Piano Trio can boast instant credibility and appeal right out of the gate.
The powerhouse ensemble will make its debut at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday as part of a new chamber-music series at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada.
The group is composed of two prominent members of the Colorado Symphony, concertmaster Yumi-Hwang Williams and principal cellist Silver Ainomäe, and pianistHsing-ay Hsu, artistic director of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Pendulum New Music Series.
Although they have performed with one another in one context or another, the three have never performed together
Violinist, Yumi Hwang-Wiliams, left, during a practice session at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada Saturday morning. (THE DENVER POST | ANDY CROSS)
"What's really great about working with Yumi and Silver is that we have a great chemistry in action, in the moment, and I hope that will really come through in the concert, and I'm sure it will," Hsu said.
Though the group has no future concerts scheduled other than a brief appearance Feb. 12 at Metropolitan State College of Denver's Piano Celebration, it wants to have a regular presence on the local scene.
"We're hopeful, because we're all in the Denver area, and we're really willing to make things work schedule- wise," Hsu said. "In terms of what we actually do, it will have to depend on what opportunities come along."
Tuesday's program begins with a group of duo and solo works by such familiar composers as Johannes Brahms and Astor Piazzolla, and culminates with a chamber favorite: Antonin Dvorak's Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90, "Dumky."
"It's always a treat to get to play chamber music with people that you are simpatico with and you also get along with, too," Hwang-Williams said. "It's something all of us need to do. We crave it as musicians."
Denver Post, The (CO)
The Pathmakers 2011
January 2, 2011
They're redrawing the geography of
television and re-creating the rules of classical music. They're catalysts, tossing off new jokes and drumbeats and helping us rethink
traditional theater, music, painting and education.
Who will be taking Colorado forward this year and beyond? We're betting on these seven faces.
Not just playing music but presenting it
It's not enough for today's classical musicians to be compelling artists. With audiences and interest on the wane, they have to serve as ambassadors for this centuries- old form - educating, promoting, even producing their own events.
Since becoming artistic director of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Pendulum New Music Series in 2005, pianist Hsing-ay Hsu, 34, has taken on this 21st-century role with relish.
Unlike classical artists who perform a cross-section of repertory each season, Hsu likes to divide her performance schedule into what she calls "projects" - groups of concerts and events devoted to a composer, period or region.
This past fall, for example, she concentrated on "The Circa 1950 Project," marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of American composer Samuel Barber, and examined the competing currents running through music in the 1950s.
"My worst fear is for an audience to come to a concert and then go home and say, 'Oh, she moved her fingers fast,' and not have anything else that connected with their lives or with their intellectual curiosity," Hsu said.
Beyond conventional programs, the pianist presents lectures, seminars and nontraditional events, which can include narration, multimedia and artists from other fields.
She also uses her projects, such as one in 2008 focused on 20th-
century French composer Olivier Messiaen, as incentives for collaborations among classical organizations across the region.
"I love the idea of having people go from venue to venue and just have a larger view of this Boulder-Denver corridor because it really is the perfect size for making collaborations happen," Hsu said.
Before coming to the Aspen Music Festival as a student from 1994 to '96, Chinese-bornHsu had never played a work by a living composer. But in Aspen, she met the man who would become her husband - composer Daniel Kellogg, who also teaches at CU- Boulder - and he ignited her enthusiasm for contemporary music.
Besides commissioning him to write a work for her, Hsu has performed several other premieres, as well. She enjoys the give and take that come with working with composers. "I think it's the challenge of trying to push each other to want more and to do more that makes new music really exciting," she said.
The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra opens up its season with chops to spare
By Jef Otte, Mon., Oct. 11 2010 @ 2:03PM
Westward Blog: Over the weekend
Maybe it's all those tuxedos they have to buy everybody, but the symphony is expensive.Which is a shame, because it just reinforces classical music's reputation as something reserved for rich people who wear top-hats and monocles, an exclusive party regular folks aren't invited to.
That's not the case for the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 1948 (when it got its start as the Denver Businessmen's Orchestra -- for the professional, presumably, on the go), the DPO's mission has been to get quality classical to the common man at a reasonable price. And at its season opener on Friday, with help from one excellent soloist, the DPO threw down.
The centerpiece of the evening, though, was a virtuosic performance from pianist Hsing-ay Hsu, who sat in as soloist on a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concert No. 4 in G Major. Currently the head of the Pendulum New Music Series at CU-Boulder, Hsu, who played her first concert at age 4, has led a distinguished career -- the Washington Postonce praised her "power, authority and self-assurance."
And the piece itself proved a good showcase for both Hsu and the orchestra; Balancing between characteristically Beethoven-ish solemnity and plenty of chances to let the soloist shine with several series of punishing arpeggios (Hsu never slipped once, by the way), the piece allows the orchestra its time in the spotlight as well -- as far as concertos go, this one is somewhat unusual in that it opens with solo piano and then takes the piano out of the mix altogether for a while as the orchestra lays out the theme.
Aside from her unimpeachable technical skill, Hsu was also a soulful performer, giving the piece the weight of feeling it deserved. And she was fun to watch; though for the most part, her expression was one of serene concentration, she wasn't above and aw-shucks look or a playful flourish of the hand after executing a particularly impressive move.
October 9, 2010, 12:59 pm
Opus Colorado: Reviews
This Friday evening, October 8, the Denver Philharmonic orchestra opened its concert season with a program of Schumann, Beethoven, and Liszt. Their next performance will be November 19, when they will perform the Stravinsky Firebird and the Tartini violin Concerto with soloist Lina Bahn.
Following the Schumann came the Piano Concerto Nr. 4 in G major, Opus 58, by Beethoven. It was performed by Hsing-ay Hsu, who is on the faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
I shall quote from the program notes: “Since making her stage debut at age 4, Chinese pianist Hsing-ay Hsu (Sing-I Shoo) has performed at such notable venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and abroad in China, Japan, Taiwan, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and France. Upon reaching the age of eligibility in her freshman year at Juilliard, Hsu captured the 1996 William KapellInternational Piano Competition Second Prize. She is also winner of the prestigious Juilliard William Petschek Recital Award in 2000, a 2003 McCrane Foundation Artist Grant, a 1999-2001 Paul & Daisy Sows Graduate Fellowship, and a 1997 Gilmore Young Artist Award.”
The notes go on to list her awards and honors which are so many that there is not space in this article for them. But I will tell you that she is a true advocate of new music, and she is married to Daniel Kellogg, who is on the composition faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder. What a rare thing it is for a young pianist to proselytize new music! To continue from the concert program: “Recent projects include collaborations with the Colorado Ballet, choreographers David Capps and Viki Psihoyos, pipa artist Fan Wei, and a series of lecture-recitals for Olivier Messiaen’s centennial year in 2008. …She has served as visiting piano facuIty at Ohio University and University of Colorado, given residencies at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and Xiamen University, and regularly teaches masterclasses. Ms. Hsu is currently the Artistic Administrator of the Pendulum New Music Series at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she resides with her husband, composer Daniel Kellogg.”
The Beethoven Piano Concerto begins with the solo instrument playing unaccompanied, and it is therefore quite revolutionary because no concerto to this point had ever begun in such a fashion. Not only that, but it begins softly, and there is none of the the intensity that was surely lurking somewhere in his mind as he considered the Fifth Symphony (we do know from his many notebooks that he was already bearing this symphony in mind at the time he wrote his Piano Concerto Nr. 4). This is perhaps, due to the fact that his lawsuits and court hearings were finished, in his attempt to gain custody of his nephew from an alcoholic brother. Also, he was quite aware of his growing deafness, and the five opening chords (in D major – not G – which the orchestra answers in B major) have a certain sense of calm resignation.
Ms. Hsu has remarkable ability to obtain fine tone out of a very recalcitrant and unforgiving instrument. But in this performance, the orchestra played with a conviction that I have never heard. Ms. Hsu’s playing was incredibly sensitive and warm. And, of course, it was fascinating to see the depth of her concentration. It was also wonderful to watch the eye contact between Maestro Flatt and Ms. Hsu. They created the impression that they had performed together many times, because they seemed quite comfortable in reading and responding to each other’s artistic abilities. I certainly hope that there were young pianists in the audience, which was quite large, so that they could see the musical interchange that was going on between these two individuals. As I have said before, an orchestra is the conductors instrument, and Adam Flatt seems to have convinced the orchestra to play as one. The second movement of this marvelous Concerto Nr. 4 is also quite revolutionary because it is only 72 measures long. Think of that! 72 measures. And Beethoven requests that the pianist hold the soft-pedal down for all 72 measures. There are so many small details in a work like this that show Beethoven changing so many rules out of his own artistic necessity. And I hasten to point out that both Ms. Hsu and Adam Flatt collaborated on allowing us to revel in Beethoven, and not flashy technique (though both certainly have that) that some pianists selfishly display. The third movement is a traditional Rondo form that begins without pause, and perhaps more than any other Beethoven concerto movement, sparkles with glittering light. And that is the way it was performed. It is interesting to note that Mendelssohn admired this concerto very much, and chose it to perform on his last concert in London in 1846. Ms. Hsu’s performance of this piece received a standing ovation which was very well deserved.
Denver Post arts and entertainment
A tribute to Messiaen
CU pianist Hsu heads local centennial fete in his honor
Article Last Updated: 02/04/2008 03:40:26 PM MST
Pianist Hsing-ay Hsu earned her master of music degree in 2001 from Yale University, where she studied with noted virtuoso Claude Frank. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The DenverPost )
Famed figures such as Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg have been long touted as the classical music standard-bearers of the 20th century, but Nigel Simeone wonders if another name shouldn't be added to the list: Olivier Messiaen.
"I think that the sheer originality of his music is something that we're beginning to find really a very important voice in the 20th century, in much the same way as a composer like (Benjamin) Britten," said Simeone, co-author of an authoritative 2005 biography of the composer and a musicologist at the University of Sheffield in England.
"As a composer who really engaged with nature, who really was inspired by his faith but who above all produced stuff that sounds like nobody else, I think he is very important figure. I'd certainly put him in the top 10."
Messiaen's continuing rise in prominence is likely to accelerate this year with a worldwide celebration of the centennial of his birth — a milestone sparking the biggest burst of attention on the French composer since his death in 1992.
Among the hundreds of events taking place will be a year-long festival in London, multiple offerings in France and a pair of upcoming programs at New York's Carnegie Hall, including a Feb. 15 exploration of the composer's "Turangalîla" Symphony.
Colorado's observance of the centennial kicks into high gear Friday with the launch of a series of concerts and lectures spearheaded by pianist Hsing-ay Hsu, artistic administrator of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Pendulum New Music Concert Series.
It climaxes at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 with a free CU-Boulder faculty concert featuring Hsu, 1997 winner of the prestigious Gilmore Young Artist Award, and pianist AlejandroCremaschi and violinist Mintze Wu.
Hsu was introduced to Messiaen's music in 1994 during the first of three summers she spent at the Aspen Music Festival. Composer Daniel Kellogg, a fellow student who later became her husband, played her a recording of Messiaen's "Twenty Aspects of the Infant Jesus."
"It was just very, very striking," she said. "It was music unlike anything I had heard. He had a very unique voice, and I remember thinking, 'Boy, is this difficult and so challenging.' It stayed in the back of my mind."
Since joining the CU-Boulder faculty in 2005, Hsu has been looking for a chance to delve more deeply into the composer's music, and this anniversary provided the ideal opportunity.
A student of a trio of noted French composers, including Paul Dukas of "Sorcerer's Apprentice" fame, Messiaen wrote highly original music inspired by nature and infused with his deep Catholic faith.
"Whether you're a religious person or not, what you get with Messiaen is a fantastic sense of explosive colors and playfulness in an awful lot of his music," Simeone said. "And I think people find that emotionally a very moving thing. It grabs you."
The composer created what the musicologist calls a "very crazy sound world," one that audiences in the 21st century, who have experienced everything from bebop to rock 'n' roll to hip-hop, are much better equipped to understand and appreciate.
"He never uses a harp," Simeone said. "He never uses timpani. The harp, how much more French an instrument can you get? And there's not a single Messiaen piece that uses one.
"So, he is a very French composer, but in a lot of ways like that, the sounds he was looking for were ones that nobody else had tried before and, frankly,
In the 16 years since his death, French composer Olivier Messiaen's place in 20th-century classical music continues to rise. This 1940s photo shows the composer outside the Trinité Church in Paris, where he was organist. (Private collection of Nigel Simeone)
no one else has tried to imitate them (since). How can you?"
His career went through a series of phases, even brief experimentation with atonality in the late 1940s and '50s. But he was never a revolutionary in the vein of Stravinsky or Schoenberg, always preferring to go his own way, even if it seemed out of step with the times.
"Messiaen is a composer who was never frightened of using the beautiful sound of a major triad, which was a very bold move for a composer claiming himself to be very much of the avant garde — and he was," Simeone said.
Early in his career in the 1930s, he was well received by the critics. But in the 1940s, they began to turn against him, in part because of his independent-mindedness and what was seen as his religious proselytizing.
This negativism extended to the United States, where the composer's massive, 10-movement "Turangalîla" Symphony, which is now viewed as a 20th-century masterpiece, was panned by critics after its Boston Symphony debut in 1949 with Leonard Bernstein conducting.
But in recent decades, opinions have turned decidedly in Messiaen's favor.
The selections featured during Hsu's centennial series include some of the composer's best-known works involving keyboard:
• Two Preludes. Written while he was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire, the set of eight Preludes became his first published work in 1929. Though strongly influenced by Debussy, they already display his distinctive sound.
• Theme and Variations for Violin and Piano. Messiaen wrote this piece in 1932 as a kind of wedding present to his first wife, violinist and composer Claire Delbos, and they performed it together frequently before she became mentally ill in the 1940s.
• Final movement of "Visions of the Amen." This 1943 work for two pianos was inspired by one of his students, Yvonne Loriot, who later became his second wife. "You get this tremendous kind of joyous, ecstatic spirit at the end of the piece. It's quite extraordinary," Simeone said.
• Two pieces from "Twenty Aspects of the Infant Jesus." This 1945 work for solo piano tells the nativity story of Christ and was originally accompanied by religious commentaries that angered music critics of the period.
In addition to his rich trove of works, Messiaen continues to influence the direction of contemporary music through his many students, including such significant composers as Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
"He was a remarkable composition teacher, because he was so undoctrinaire, if you like," Simeone said. "He didn't ever tell people to compose like he did, but what he did do was encourage them to set their imaginations free."
Kyle MacMillan: 303-954-1675 or kmacmillan@denverpost
Local Messiaen events
Pianist Hsing-ay Hsu will present several events to the mark the Messiaen centennial:
Piano Celebration 2008
Concert. King Center, Auraria campus. A diverse piano program that will include Hsu performing excerpts from two Messiaen works. 7:30 p.m. Friday. $10, $8 seniors. 303-556-2296 ahec.edu/kingcenter.
"Enter the World of Messiaen"
Lecture/recital. King Center, Auraria campus. A program that will include two of the composer's Preludes and the final movement of "Visions of the Amen." 1 p.m. Saturday. Free. 303-556-2296 or pianocelebration.com.
Chamber Concert. University of Colorado at Boulder, Grusin Music Hall, Imig Music Building, 18th Street and Euclid Avenue. As part of the CU College of Music's faculty series, this concert will include two pieces from "Twenty Aspects of the Infant Jesus" and Theme and Variations for Violin and Piano. 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12. Free. 303-492-8008 or colorado .edu/music.
"A French Connection"
Recital. Boulder County Public Library, 1000 Canyon Blvd. A program of French music including Messiaen's Theme and Variations for Violin and Piano. 4 p.m. Feb. 24. Free.303-441-3100 or boulder.lib.co.us.
"Faith Inside the Music"
Lecture/recital. Room C-199, Imig Music Building. A presentation examining the theological ideas underlying Messiaen's music as part of a colloquium, titled "Faith, Reason, Doubt." 5:30 p.m. March 3. Free. 303-492-1423 or colorado.edu/.artssciences/cha.
Artists celebrate Messiaen
By Wes Blomster
Pianist Hsing-ay Hsu, who directs CU's Pendulum New Music Series, has put together a centennial celebration of composer Olivier Messiaen.
If you go
MESSIAEN CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
7:30 p.m. Friday: Introduction. Metro State College of Denver. Free and open to the public. 303-556-5715
1 p.m. Saturday: "Entering the World of Messiaen," lecture/recital. King Center, Metro State College of Denver, Auraria Campus. 303-556-5715
2 p.m. Saturday: Master Class. King Center, Metro State College of Denver. 303-556-5715.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 12: CU Faculty Series: Hsing-ay Hsu, piano with Mintze Wu, violin and Alejandro Cremaschi, piano. Grusin Music Hall, University of Colorado. 303-492-8008
4 p.m. Feb. 24: "A French Connection," featuring works by Messiaen, Couperin and Debussy. CU violinist Judith Ingolfsson. Boulder Public Library, 1000 Canyon Blvd. 303-441-3100
5:30 p.m. March 3: "Faith Inside the Music," CU Center for Humanities and the Arts Annual Colloquium. C-199, CU Imig Music Building. 303-492-3929
For more detailed information, visit www.hsingayhsu.com All events are free and open to the public.
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is widely regarded as one of the most significant -- and original -- composers of the 20th century.
He wrote an immense amount of music, including an opera of Wagnerian dimensions on St. Francis of Assisi.
Yet, 15 years after his death, his music is only rarely encountered "live" in this country.
That makes the series of local events celebrating the centennial of Messiaen's birth a program of special significance.
Mastermind of the project, which opens Friday at Metro State College in Denver, is pianist Hsing-ay Hsu, who first encountered the composer when she was a 17-year-old piano student in Aspen.
"Dan had a CD of Messiaen's 'Vingt regard sur l'enfant Jesus,'" says the pianist, who directs the University of Colorado's Pendulum New Music Series. "I was immediately attracted by it -- by its harmonic beauty."
("Dan" is CU composer Daniel Kellogg, aka Hsu's husband and a modern master in his own right.)
Hsu, however, didn't immediately try her hand at Messiaen.
"At the time I was learning Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto," she says. "It's also a very hard piece."
But her fascination with Messiaen continued, and eager to face the challenge of his music, Hsu had her chance in 1997, when she went to France to study with MichelBeroff, a Messiaen protégé, at the Academie d'Ete in Nice.
"I'm especially impressed by his intuitive ear for harmony." she says of the composer. "I was lucky enough to have private ear training when I was 6, and it has made a world of a difference for me.
"I think all children would benefit from lessons in harmony, which often gets overlooked in children's musical education.
"Messiaen got this training in grade school."
On the Feb. 12 Boulder program Hsu will perform two pieces from Messiaen's "VingtRegards de l'Enfant Jesus," two Preludes and the final movement of "Visions del'Amen."
Given his stature, why is so little Messiaen heard today?
"His pieces are extremely demanding -- both physically and emotionally," Hsu says. "For students I recommend his Preludes; they are short and absolutely beautiful."
Messiaen, organist at Paris' La Trinité throughout his professional life, was firmly rooted in Catholicism, an influence evident in most of his compositions.
"I think his faith gives his music an optimism and a love that is often absent from the works of his contemporaries," Hsu says.
Hsu, the producer of this mini-festival, is proud that three local organization are involved in it: CU, Metro State and the Boulder Public Library.
"I think it's wonderful -- and terribly important -- that we are celebrating the beauty ofMessiaen's music with my new hometown of Boulder," she says.
"And I'm very excited to be playing with such wonderful musicians.
The artists, she points out, are all either CU professors or alumni of the university.
Among those on stage with Hsu at the Boulder Public Library concert is CU violinist Judith Ingolfsson; the two will play Messiaen's 1932 Theme and Variations, a 15-minute set of five variations on a theme.
"It's my first performance of the work," says the violinist. "I've wanted to play it for a long time and I'm delighted to have this opportunity."
Thisted Dagblad - Denmark
BRILLIANT PIANIST STOLE THE SHOW
“Hsing-ay Hsu presented a most outstanding
performance with sublime sound and technical
surplus, which cast a spell on the audience...
She demonstrated mature and brilliant playing...
it was dazzling.”
Xiamen Daily - China
WORLD MASTERS PERFORM MUSIC IN
SECOND INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
“From the opening, the audience were drunk
on the beauty of the music...the depth
and romanticism of her performance
gained the crowd’s deep admiration.”
The Houston Chronicle
"Hsu was an intriguing interpreter.
Her intelligence was enhanced by elegant
style and beautiful tone. She moved
effortlessly through swings of mood
and technical demands."
"Hsu played with a power, authority,
and self-assurance that would be
impressive in any pianist."
The Baltimore Sun
"Her performance was masterly in its
strength and authority and was
sustained by exquisite lyricism."
The New York Times
"[Hsu] played the appealing gritty,
rhythmically vital Momentum with an
explosion of energy and texture."
The Boston Globe
"Hsing-ay Hsu played Liszt, Debussy,
and Chopin with bravado, charm,
and unerring accuracy."
The Orange County Register
"Hers was a carefully voiced, sensitive,
clear and warmly hued interpretation
[of the Schumann concerto]..."
The Greenville News
"She is one young artist who deserves
every piece of gold, silver and bronze
she's won. Hsu's eloquent ideas created a
magical rendition of a composition, endowed
with beautiful harmonics and a dreamy
tone... Hsu gave a broadly dramatic
yet carefully nuanced reading."
Piano Artistry Magazine (Beijing)
She played [the Beijing premiere of
Huang's Concerto No.2] with masculine
authority. Her performance was grand,
forthright, and powerful...and emotionally
moving...her technique was effortless."
The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)
"She played Rachmaninoff's Piano
Concerto No. 3 with sweep and
intelligence...the magic of her
will-o'-the-wisp fanfares and
filigrees caught the ear."
MetroWest Jewish News (New Jersey)
"Hsing-ay stole the show with her
technically dazzling, crystal-clear
reading...[she] brought the audience to
its collective feet in a wave of deserved
applause [in Alice Tully Hall]."
What is it like to take piano lessons?
1/30/2017: A sweet note from a high school student
"I have studied with Hsing-ay Hsu for almost five years. I still remember that first lesson that my mom dragged me to. I had no idea what to expect or who's house we were driving to, but all I could hear was my mom continually saying "she's going to be great." That first lesson was all it took to know that I had found a phenomenal teacher. Having such a knowledgeable, humble, and motivating teacher has made my love for music grow exponentially over the years. She has made music a huge part of my life, pushing me to do things I thought I was incapable of, and taught me everything I know. I will never be able to express my gratitude for everything she's done."