On Saturday 19th November, 2016, my daughter and I were privileged to see pianist Soo Yeon Cho at a private salon recital hosted by Robin Shoemaker in his home on Central Park West, New York.
I had never been to a salon concert, so I was unsure what to expect. But our host welcomed us at his door and quickly put us at ease. With a glass of wine in hand, we enjoyed having time to connect with other guests.
The guests ranged from musicians to scientists, New Yorkers to Hungarians, and from as far away as Australia. It was inspiring to be among such a diverse audience, brought together by love of the piano. I am only sorry that there was not enough time to get to know everyone.
The Salon Concert was a different kind of experience from public recitals. I have had some great seats at Carnegie, but there is always a gulf, physical and emotional, between audience and performer. In Mr. Shoemaker’s salon we breathed the same air as the pianist, and there were no spotlights to differentiate her space from our space.
The recital was held in a room containing a Steinway and improvised seating for about 20. The walls were adorned with black-framed art that created a serene ambience.
During the intermission I was surprised to discover that more people had been seated in the corridor looking into the salon, and I was touched to see that our host had left the best salon seating for his guests.
Soo Yeon Cho
Ms. Cho is my piano tutor, so I was already aware of her skill and her prodigious resume. She has two degrees from Julliard, and many performance and competition successes. But being tutored by an accomplished pianist is very different from attending a professional recital by that pianist, and on this evening I finally got to understand just how good Ms. Cho was.
Our host provided a printed program for the event. The selection was well-architected, from the opening baroque thru romantics Chopin and Schubert, with a spike to Ginastera, and thence to the father of modern piano, Franz Liszt. Here is the detail, with links to other performances for readers unfamiliar with any items listed. The first link is to a prior performance by Ms. Cho herself.
- D. Scarlatti – Piano sonata in G Major K427 (Soo Cho, 2015)
- D. Scarlatti – Piano sonata in D Minor K213 (Ryan Lane Whitney, 2013)
- D. Scarlatti – Piano sonata in G Major K455 (Yuja Wang, 2012)
- J. S. Bach – Prelude and Fugue in A flat Major BWV 862 (Andras Schiff)
- F. Chopin – Nocturne in C sharp Minor Op. posth. (Natalie Schwamova, best rendition on YouTube)
- A. Ginastera – Piano Sonata No. 1 Op 22 (Adam Neiman)
- F. Schubert – Sonata in G Major no 18 D 894 (Volodos)
- F. Liszt – Faust-Gounod Waltz (Nino Gvetadze)
I have always thought of Domenic Scarlatti as one of “those” baroque composers that one has to whet one’s pianistic skills on out of duty more than preference. But Ms. Cho showed a special affinity for this composer and her performance brought him to life for me. Her G Major sonatas were vibrant, from the ringing K427 to the mania of K455. Her D Minor K213 sonata was haunted and moving, impressive for a composition that was born on the harpsichord.
I had been looking forward to Chopin’s C sharp Minor Nocturne (op. post.) as the highlight of the recital. It is one of my personal favorites, and as expected, Ms. Cho played it with consummate artistry.
The Ginastera was an abrupt contrast to preceding selections. Ms. Cho tackled its challenging syncopation and rousing percussiveness with vigor. Then Schubert’s serene G Major Sonata returned us to the opening key of the evening, and to more traditional harmonies.
The recital ended with Liszt’s showpiece arrangement of Gounod’s Faust waltz (see this Vienna Philharmonic performance for the original). Here Ms. Cho showed impressive power at the keyboard, delivering an encore-like finale that brought closure to a great evening.
A Memorable Evening
I don’t know how Mr. Shoemaker came to invite Soo Yeon Cho for his salon concert, but he chose well. As for Ms. Cho, I can’t imagine how much work she must have put into preparing for this recital. But it all worked so well that although we found ourselves in a hailstorm as we left the Shoemaker residence, we were so warm inside that it just didn’t matter.