Review of TC Alum Joanne Chang’s recent concert

| November 10, 2010

In describing the impact of music on the human psyche, Heinrich Heine, one of the foremost German poets of the nineteenth century, said that “when words leave off, music begins.”

This was indeed the experience of those who attended the recent performance of award-winning classical pianist Joanne Chang at Northport Library. The concert, which was a year in the making, was sponsored by the Northport Arts Coalition in cooperation with the library as part of their Do-ing Music series.

Chang, who holds a doctorate from Columbia University, is a pianist of international renown who has performed extensively on four continents. Closer to home, Chang has given recitals at Steinway Hall, the New York Public Library, and Carnegie Weill Hall. She is currently an assistant professor in the music department at Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York.

For her solo piece, Chang chose French composer Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin ( the tomb of Couperin), a challenging suite dating from the early part of the twentieth century. The piece is a tour de force consisting of six dramatically different movements, each of which Ravel wrote as a memorial or tribute to friends who died in combat during World War I.

The piece, which celebrates the Baroque dance suite style popular in the eighteenth century, was written to evoke continuum of emotions that one might experience upon visiting a tomb, and Chang said that she walked around in a Manhattan cemetery in preparation for the concert.

Chang’s performance provided what can only be described as a feast for the imagination. As her delft, confident fingers waltzed across the keyboard with grace and precision, she enchanted the audience by evoking emotions ranging from playful and whimsical to somber, mournful, and bittersweet. Her rendition of the sixth movement, in particular, skillfully conveyed the urgency, restlessness, and dueling emotions that might be attributed to the soul of a man lost to eternity in the prime of his youth.

Chang further engaged the audience as she performed Andre Jolivet’s “Chant de Linos,” accompanied by flutist Sally Shorrock of Canta Libre.

Chang said that this piece, written by French composer Jolivet in 1944, is a funeral lament expressing feelings of anger and sadness associated with the loss of human lives occasioned by WW II. Its composition was considered ground-breaking in its day, Chang said, adding that for her, it juxtaposes agitation with eerie serenity.

NAC board member Charlotte Koons, who facilitates community outreach, spoke of the special poignancy of Ravel’s music. She said that she particularly enjoyed Chang’s performance with Shorrock which she described as a “musical exchange.”

“It is a difficult piece and it was breathtakingly done,” Koons said of their masterful, musical collaboration.