The Young Concert Artists Series- Hanzhi Wang
Last night, I was invited to attend the premiere of the 40th season of the Young Concert Artists Series, hosted at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. YCA promotes the talent of young artists, who, if selected, perform a concert on their chosen instrument. This evenings performer was Hanzhi Wang on accordion, the first accordion player to have ever performed as a part of the series. Having only heard live accordion on a handful of occasions, my curiosity was heightened at the idea of a concert based solely on solo accordion. I was even more intrigued when I looked at my program before the start of the show and saw the concert was to include pieces by Bach and Mozart, as well as Gubaidulina’s “De Profundis.”
The first piece on the program was J.S. Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in C Minor.” As you could imagine, Bach did not originally compose this piece for accordion, so I was curious to hear what it would sound like played on one. As Wang began to play, it was as if the instrument had been transformed into an expertly played organ, with a full, rich timbre. Wang employed incredible dynamic range throughout the pieces six movements, and demonstrated virtuosic skill in the speed and complexity in which she played. She was able to transition seamlessly from the bold Sinfonia to the more relaxed Allemande, eventually ending on the energetic Capriccio. I could tell from the thunderous applause at the end of the movement that others were equally impressed by her skill.
The second piece featured a drastic shift in the style, leaving Bach far behind. De Profundis, unlike the previous piece, was written by Sofia Gubaidulina specifically for the accordion in collaboration with Friedrich Lips, a Russian accordion player. The pieces title references the Latin text of Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord.” The piece reflects a climb out of the depths with a shift from a low, dark register to a much brighter region. The skill and technicality needed to play this piece was incredible. I was unaware that some of the techniques in this piece were even possible to play on the accordion, including glissandi and vibrati, but Wang did so with incredible grace and agility as the piece progressed, bringing the meaning of the Psalm that inspired it to life.
The third piece was Mozart’s “Andante in F major, K. 616.” This piece, originally commissioned for organ by an eccentric count, was written in a similar style of funeral music in Mozart’s time. It was a slower, more somber piece than the previous two pieces. Wang again shifted the tone of her playing, and it seemed as if I was listening to a pipe organ play this piece in an old church. The accordion produced a fantastic resonance and depth reminiscent of an organ, yet it still brought a newness to this familiar piece the likes of which I hadn’t heard before.
After a brief intermission, the next piece to be played was three of Astor Piazolla’s “Five Tango Sensations.” The selections chosen were named “Anxiety”, “Awake”, and “Fear.” For this piece, Wang was joined by the Omer String Quartet featuring Mason Yu and Erica Tursi on violin, Jinsun Hong on viola, and Alex Cox on cello. In “Anxiety”, the accordion was played in a way that caused it to meld perfectly with the strings. I wasn’t sure what sound to expect when the accordion played with the strings, but it blended together in a way that sounded like the string quintet was twice it’s actual size, rich and full. In the following movement, “Awake”, the accordion moved to a much lower register, seeming to take on the properties of the cello. It sounded as if someone was slowly waking from a dreamlike state. The third movement, “Fear” felt a bit more lighthearted on the surface than the other two movements, but there was a hint at something more sinister as the piece moved forward.
The next three pieces were composed by Danish Composer Martin Lohse. The first piece was written specifically for Hanzhi Wang, and its performance that night marked its D.C. premiere. Titled “Encircled”, this piece was written for solo accordion and was inspired by the text from the following poem:
“Brown and yellow drops
in the shallow water
encircled by flickering light
A gift from the past
among sand, seaweed, and rock
on the edge of the sea
The flowing melodic lines of this piece seemed to reflect the imagery of the water described in the text, and the whole piece had a lightness to it.
In the following two pieces, both by Martin Lohse, Lohse offered the following notes on his compositional style. “Menuetto and Passing III use a musical technique that I developed in 2009 in which different layers of music with individual tempos, metric, and musical styles are combined in a simple pattern of chords, which slowly modulate through all of the keys in a never ending sequence, creating a music with no or very few dissonances.” This was true in both pieces. I would describe the continually flowing style as somewhat hypnotic, and very soothing. Although the program notes describe a simple pattern of chords, both pieces overall sounded incredibly complex to play (though you might not want to take my word on this as I have no experience writing for or playing the accordion), though Wang made it sound effortless.
The final piece Moritz Moszkowski’s “Étincelles.” This piece was light and playful, and required speed, precision, and technicality. Wang played it beautifully, and when she finished this piece on a short, delicate, playful run, the audience, who had seemed a bit nervous at first at the idea of a solo accordion concert, burst into thunderous applause.