Kun Woo Paik and Friends

I feel bad for being a bit lazy with writing a concert review, but to be honest, I’m being a bit concert-ed out. There’s another one tomorrow that I was debating whether to go to, since I have quite a busy weekend ahead, but we shall see.

In any case, the Artist in Residence for the NSO is outstanding, gentlemanly, very suave pianist Kun Woo Paik. Last year he played both Scriabin’s piano concerto and Poem of Fire in a concert titled Fireworks from Russia, and just last week he played Dvorak’s piano concerto on a concert titled Evening of Symphonic Blast, likely more in reference to Saint-Saens’ organ symphony on the second half of the program.

He was back tonight with various combinations of principals and folks to play two quintets. First on the program was Schubert’s quintet in A major, the ‘Trout’, the one with the double bass, and the second half was Brahms’ F minor piano quintet.

I’m a bit too lazy and/or busy to elaborate upon the details of what was actually a rather small concert. Each of the pieces comes to 40 minutes or something, and there were no encores or any stage shuffling, so the whole thing was over shortly after 9 pm, but there were a few highlights:

  • The Schubert didn’t engage me until the second movement. I was worried I was perhaps sitting (in my regular seat) too far away for a chamber setup in the concert hall instead of the recital hall, but the balance and sound were great, and the piece really came to life for the second movement.
  • Delicacy is a thing Schubert has in spades. Three of the five performers of the Schubert were females (violinist, cellist, bassist) and I swear it lent a much more delicate quality to the work, even in places where the bass and cello really dig into their instruments.
  • Paik is a truly talented, understated genius. He never gets worked up or flashy with his performance, knows his place in the ensemble, but felt like he was passively and perfectly keeping everyone together. It’s also incredible the power and sound he generates with such seemingly small gestures.
  • The Brahms after the break was all menfolk, and they played the hell out of the piece. It’s that masculine, lively, intense, crunchy, really stormy-at-times youthful Brahms, and they moved and breathed like one many-stringed organism, hammering and bowing and plucking and pedaling with precision and passion. So wonderful to hear such great differences of expressions among two very famous chamber works.
  • Paik is also a consummate gentleman, insisting at every chance that the women take leave of the stage first, and calling them out after the concert was finished to take their bows once again. He would gesture to the men on stage to make way and let them go first, and it was a small but incredibly respectable gesture that seems humble, unassuming, but ever so suave.
  • We need more chamber music. That’s the biggest takeaway. While the hall wasn’t full tonight, it was a breathtaking evening. Listening to chamber music, really from anyone, feels like a way to get to know them better. Even in the large concert hall, it felt more intimate, personal, focused, especially with the caliber of playing we had. I don’t know why there aren’t more chamber events. The overhead and execution is smaller, in some cases only three players or something, and a vast repertoire of exquisite music to be enjoyed. We need more chamber music.

That’s all.

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