On August 16, Steinway Hall gave New Yorkers an impressive sample of the Edward Auer Beethoven Workshop from Indiana University. The Piano Workshop at the University's Jacobs School of Music has grown over the past decade from a small 4-day gathering into a 12-day Festival involving students and faculty members from around the world. It began as a relatively small scaled operation; expanded in 2007, with the help of Auer's wife Junghwa Moon Auer 's administrative and recruiting efforts. That year's Workshop ran for ten days and brought in twenty students, including international students for the first time. Over the next few years, the Workshop broadened its scope to include two levels of participants and faculty members: Since the 2010 Workshop, 1) Full participants (those who perform, take lessons and play in masterclasses); and 2) Auditors (those who simply attend events and pay for lessons if they choose). The Auditors may be either students from teenage through graduate level or young professionals who want to continue their studies. The program now regularly brings in students from across the United States Canada and Korea, and the Auers say they hope to recruit European students soon.
Like the diverse student population, faculty members come from around the world. Full-time faculty members included Edward Auer and Junghwa Moon Auer, along with Peter Bithell (Guildhall School of Music, London), Hee Sung Joo (Seoul National University) and Jung Eon Moon (Ewha Women's University, Seoul). Guests included Jerome Lowenthal (Juilliard School of Music), Andre Watts (Indiana University) and Nicholas Roth (Drake University).
Originally the Workshop focused on the music of Chopin (in 2007 Mr. Auer was in the midst of making his superb recordings of Chopin to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth in 1810). But the 2010 Workshop focused on Beethoven's 32 Piano Sonatas, and involved approximately 45 student performances of music of Bach to Boulez. The 2011 Workshop, like the previous one, included two competitions-the first one requiring the performance of a Beethoven Sonata, following the Workshop's theme; and in the other, each student could perform a work of his or her choice. The prize in each case was a performance in a special recital in New York's Steinway Hall.
The August 16th concert commenced auspiciously with masterful accounts of two late Beethoven Sonatas by the Auers. Junghwa Auer's account of Op.109 was lyrical, probing and cohesively structural, eschewing some but not all of the traditional sturm und drang in the central movement, but the culminating theme and variations were absorbingly detailed. Mrs. Auer, a onetime pupil of Gabriel Chodos, paid eloquent homage to her own, and Beethoven' intent.
It is sometimes said that happily married couples begin to look alike. Coincidentally, Mr. Auer's version of the more Olympian 'and monumental Op. 111 similarly infused the valedictory last Sonata with a mode of expansive and elastic lyricism akin to his wife's way with Sonata No. 30. Interpretative resemblances notwithstanding, the Auers turned in splendid performances that paid homage to these sublime compositions.
The second half of the Steinway Hall program was to have included the student winners, Ka Jeng Wong and Cho selected by the Auers and guest judges Henry Upper, Don Freund and Karen Shaw (all of the IU Jacobs School of Music). Unfortunately Ka Jeng Wong was unable to travel to New York but Ms. Cho was joined by the two other workshop students at the concert: 14-year-old Gyu Tae Ha from Korea, and I2-year-old Anson Hui, Auer's pupil who lives in Toronto. Master Hui's remarkably dexterous fingers negotiated Bach's Italian Concerto with accuracy and sturdy rhythm. The chubby, slightly robotic prodigy conspicuously used the sustaining pedal in the central Andante, but used none at all in the outer movements. I wager that his burgeoning interpretive sensibilities will greatly develop as he reaches puberty.
Conversely, Ms Cho, still in her teens, has already conquered most of the technical treacheries of Beethoven's Sonata No. 28, Op. 101. More than just that, she presented the knotty work's structure and musical ingredients with flowing line, crystalline textures and elegant tone in a cogent (if slightly bland and under characterized) interpretation.
For this critic's estimation, the outstanding student performance was Gyu Tae Ha's astoundingly potent and convincing account of the ubiquitous Chopin Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53. His way with the great piece had all of the necessary rhetorical gestures and showmanship--not to mention its considerable technical demands---in his blood and under control. I could pay him no greater compliment than by writing that his way with the beloved masterpiece had me thinking of the young Arthur Rubinstein!