Siqian Li at St Mary’s Mastery and intelligence at the service of music

Tuesday 4 October 3.00 pm

Some superb playing from Siquian Li not only a magnificent technical command but the intelligence from the class of Norma Fisher that gave such weight to all that she did .From the sparkling multi coloured bagatelles of Carl Vine through the impatient improvisations of Beethoven’s rarely heard Fantasia op 77 where his irascible character had much in common with Schumann’s dual personality.Schubert’s G flat impromptu calmed the ruffled waters with simplicity and sublime beauty.Liszt’s monumental B minor Sonata was given a reading where intelligence and technical prowess went hand in hand with passion and beauty.Her authority and ability to think always from the bass gave an architectural strength and character to one of the greatest masterpieces of the piano repertoire

Carl Edward Vine,born 8 October 1954 and is an Australian composer
From 1975 he worked as a freelance pianist and composer with a variety of theatre and dance companies, and ensembles. Vine’s catalogue includes eight symphonies, twelve concertos, music for film, television and theatre, electronic music and numerous chamber works. From 2000 until 2019 Carl was the Artistic Director of Musica Viva Australia and was also Artistic Director of the Huntington Estate Music Festival from 2006, and of the Musica Viva Festival (Sydney) from 2008. In 2005 he was awarded the Don Banks Music Award and in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Vine was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), “for distinguished service to the performing arts as a composer, conductor, academic and artistic director, and to the support and mentoring of emerging performers.” Vine currently lectures in composition and orchestration at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
His Bagatelles are from 1994 and are five very contrasting pieces that were played with great fantasy and also in the toccata with transcendental virtuosity obviously inspired by Ravel.There was even a prelude Gershwin inspired in which Siqian managed to play a few notes with her elbow!But it was her artistry in the more atmospheric preludes that was quite extraordinary.A use of the pedals that could create waves of fluid sounds and even sounds like raindrops falling onto the keys.It was a ravishing performance of superlative artistry that brought these preludes vividly to life and made one wonder why they are not played more often in the concert hall.
Czerny recalled of Beethoven’s early improvisational skills:’His improvisation was most brilliant and striking. In whatever company he might chance to be, he knew how to produce such an effect upon every hearer that frequently not an eye remained dry, while many would break out into loud sobs; for there was something wonderful in his expression in addition to the beauty and originality of his ideas and his spirited style of rendering them. After ending an improvisation of this kind he would burst into loud laughter and mock his listeners for the emotion he had caused in them. ‘You are fools!’, he would say.The Choral’ Fantasy Op 80, itself began with a piano improvisation which Beethoven wrote down only when the piece was published.Rarely played in the concert hall – the last time I heard the Fantasy op 77 was with Rudolf Serkin whose fiery temperament it suited ideally.It needs a very special pianist who can change mood even more quixotically than with Schumann’s dual personality of Florestan and Eusebius.Beethoven was much more irascible and the impatience with which he strides up and down the keyboard contrasts so vividly with the childlike innocence of the cantabile episodes.Transcendental difficulty combined with intelligent musicianship were the hallmark of Siqian’s performance.Her considerable technical command and artistry demonstrated the true character of Beethoven.He was only later to control himself as he lost his hearing and entered the world of the Gods.In his final great trilogy of sonatas with variation or fugue forms but loosing himself in a world of wondrous beauty.The first half presents a bewildering succession of musical fragments in contrasting moods, punctuated by rushing scales or arpeggios—almost as though the individual pages of music were being violently torn off.The Fantasy’s latter half is a set of variations on a short theme in B major and the final variation introduces descending scale-fragments like the opening giving an overall form to this great improvisation.Another extraordinary performance from Siqian restoring this work to the concert hall where it truly belongs.
There was sublime simplicity and sumptuous sounds in Siqian’s performance created by giving such weight to the accompaniment.It in no way stopped the melodic line from being shaped with ravishing beauty.Instead of melody and accompaniment she produced a glorious whole sound of string quartet quality that brought this well worn impromptu back to life with a freshness and beauty of exquisite musicianship .
The Sonata in B minor was dedicated to Schumann in return for Schumann’s dedication of his Fantasie op 17.It was Schumann’s contribution to the monument that Liszt intended to dedicate to Beethoven in Bonn .Mendelssohn had donated his Variations Serieuses.
A copy of the Sonata was delivered to Schumann’s house in May 1854, when he was already in a sanatorium.His wife Clara found it “merely a blind noise” and never performed it.It was attacked by the critics of the day who said “anyone who has heard it and finds it beautiful is beyond help”.Even Brahms reputedly fell asleep when Liszt performed the work in 1853.It has since been recognised as the pinnacle of the Romantic repertoire and so advanced for its age with the transformation of themes that Schubert had inspired in Liszt with his Wanderer fantasy.Of course Liszt was in turn to inspire Wagner and point the way for the revolutionary form that was to grow out of these first seeds.The genius of Liszt knew no bounds and although the virtuoso Liszt was used to astonishing and ravishing his audiences with his showmanship and improvisations of the popular operatic themes of the day in the Sonata he had written with absolute precision exactly what he intended.He had even found time to edit the 32 Sonatas of his master Beethoven.It was exactly this precision and musicianship that Siqian brought to this often misunderstood sonata.The precision with which Liszt marks the score are as clear and essential as those of Beethoven.The differences between forte and fortissimo ,mezzo forte and piano or piano and pianissimo are essential ingredients for an interpreter that dares to bring this masterpiece to life.Siqian brought simplicity and sumptuous sound, intelligence and drama that together with her technical command gave great weight and architectural shape to this monumental work.It could have had a little more freedom in the slower passages where she tended to loose the tension that she had so magnificently created with the more tempestuous episodes.But her attention to detail and overall understanding were remarkable and an antidote to the air in Perivale that was still thick with Chopin after their extraordinary festival only two days before.

A ‘rising star of the piano’, Chinese pianist Siqian Li brings elegance, dynamism and exceptional musical quality to her performances. Commended for her ‘virtuosity and talent’ (Annecy Classic Festival), her ‘huge emotional range and effortless pianistic control’ (Paul Lewis CBE), and her ‘graceful and touching’ (Emanuel Ax) approach, Siqian has appeared in concerts and recitals around the world. Dedicated to the musical arts and connecting with audiences, Siqian is equally content on intimate stages as she is on the major stages. She has performed at international concert halls including the Bridgewater Hall, Beijing Forbidden City Concert Hall, Tokyo Ginza Yamaha Concert Hall, Cairo’s Arabic Music Institute and Boston’s Jordan Hall, and in more unusual settings, with recitals at London’s 1901 Arts Club, the ever-charming Fidelio Cafe and Luke Jerram’s breathtaking GAIA The Earth Exhibition.Consistently active on the festival circuit, Siqian has given recitals at Annecy Classic Festival, Festival d’Auvers sur-Oise, Dinard Festival International de Musique, Lancaster Music Festival, Shanghai International Music Festival, and BNP Paribas Rising Star Piano Festival, amongst others. A keen collaborator, Siqian actively seeks out opportunities to work with inspiring international artists. In 2021, Siqian collaborated with Latvian violinist Roberts Balanas on his debut album, which was released on Linn Records and has surpassed 150k plays on Apple Music. Elsewhere, Siqian has collaborated with a wide range of musicians worldwide, from the principals of the China National Symphony Orchestra to violinist Jack Liebeck. The level of depth Siqian brings to her musical exploration, coupled with her shining pianism, has led to her winning numerous awards, including the top prize of the Chappell Medal Piano Competition, the Imola International Piano Competition, Krainev International Piano Competition, and the Yamaha China Piano Competition Conservatoire. Siqian was also a semi-finalist of the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2018.Siqian has performed live on BBC Radio 3 – In Tune and appeared on BBC Radio London – The Scene . Passionate about sharing thoughts and ideas in writing, Siqian’s articles have been featured on various publishers and websites including Classical Music UK and Piano Addict Blog . An enthusiastic teacher, Siqian teaches privately in London and has given masterclasses internationally, in institutions ranging from Yamaha Music China to Lancashire’s Rossall School. Siqian is a Yamaha Young Artist. She studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing with Professor Huiqiao Bao, then went on to obtain a Master of Music Degree and a Graduate Diploma at the New England Conservatory in Boston in the class of Professor Alexander Korsantia, before receiving an Artist Diploma at the Royal College of Music in 2020 under the tutelage of Professor Norma Fisher.


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