I was thrilled to see Jack Gao perform at a salon concert in New York on January 7th. The concert was a co-presentation by host Robin Shoemaker and the Center for Musical Excellence, Director Min Kwon.
Ms. Kwon enthused about how well Jack played at the 2023 Gina Bachauer Piano Competition at Juilliard, where he won First Prize. More recently, he placed first at the 2023 Naumburg International Piano Competition.
She also noted that Jack will make his Carnegie Debut on February 5th 2024.
J. S. Bach: French Suite No. 5 in G major
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90
I wasn’t sure what to make of this unusual sonata. The first movement was both pleasant and disturbing, light and dark, beautiful and dreadful. And yet there was always a sense that yin and yang would eventually resolve.
I liked how Mr. Gao evoked these contrasting moods. I liked when he unleashed Beethoven’s anguish and then let it fade. And I loved how he created those ethereal pianissimos. But I need to listen to this work again in order to grasp it better.
Liszt: Transcendental Étude No. 5, “Feux Follets”
After Beethoven’s relatively gloomy sonata, Liszt’s brash Etude allowed the pianist to have some much-needed fun. Jack’s delivery was a crowd-pleaser, entertaining and virtuosic.
Bartok: Piano Sonata
This Bartok was not an easy listen for me. While at times it was boisterously festive, at other times it felt like biting on eggshell in your omelet. This was no fault of the pianist, who played with power and conviction.
Brahms: Hungarian Dances No. 1 and No. 4 for four hands
For the second dance, the pianists switched roles. I found myself laughing as Jack played mischievous seconds. It was a spirited, entertaining performance.
Mr Lowenthal joined Ms. Kwon and Mr. Gao to play Rachmaninoff’s Romance for 6 hands, a beautiful work that felt all the more special because it was being performed by pianists from 3 generations.
Unfortunately it also meant that this fascinating concert of contrasts was coming to a close.
After the recital I spent a few minutes with Jack Gao. When I asked him how he felt about his Beethoven sonata, he lit up with enthusiasm and started explaining its construction. Jack is a versatile musician who clearly loves what he is doing, and his future looks bright.