Sound Decision
Piano

by Jonathan Mays, Oct 26th 2003
For the better part of four months, I've done my best to shed some light on the largely unexplored world of anime music. But I also have a larger goal: to share my love of music with the diverse audience of Anime News Network. With that in mind, I'd like to take a quick detour from anime and invite you to enjoy my account of a remarkable musical event.

Pianist Ayako Tsuruta is a well-traveled artist with a performance resume that spans Europe, the Middle East, and North America. She's appeared as a soloist with groups like Portugal's Figueira da Foz and the Juilliard Symphony in New York. It's easy to be impressed by such a list of accomplishments, but they're just words on a sheet of paper until you've actually witnessed her musical talents. Last Sunday afternoon I had such an opportunity, as the visiting assistant professor graced Rogers Whitmore Recital Hall with her presence.

Faculty recitals never attract large crowds, but on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of football season, the turnout was even smaller. Senior citizens, parents who dragged along their middle schoolers, and a handful of students who needed attendance credit composed most of the diminutive crowd. But the intimate hall made it quite easy to forget the size of the audience. I arrived early, sitting quietly for about half an hour before the start of the performance.

Ms. Tsuruta appeared in an elegant black dress, bowed slowly, and took her place in front of the Bösendorfer grand piano.
  1. Sonata in C Major, Op. 2 No. 3

  2. I. Allegro con brio
    II. Adagio
    III. Scherzo: Allegro – Trio
    IV. Allegro assai
One of Beethoven's earliest piano sonatas opened the recital, giving Tsuruta an opportunity to display her technical finesse and toy with the audience a bit. Two hundred and eight years later, the same old Beethoven tricks—the sudden dynamic changes, the false endings—surprise people who've never heard the piece before. My favorite was towards the end of the second movement when Tsuruta broke a spell of calm by slamming a chord on the piano; almost everyone jumped. Blending smooth, graceful playing with occasional embellished acting, the pianist captured attention effortlessly.
  1. Sonate

  2. I. Allegro con moto
    II. Lied
    III. Choral et Variations
Henri Dutilleux's aggressive but dreamy composition marked a drastic change in style. Written in 1947, the sonata struck me as an inverse of the first piece's sound. Where Beethoven used discord to shake the audience and build tension, Dutilleux's notes clash regularly, and it's the rare pleasant-sounding triad that stands out in performance. Tsuruta's playing was much more vigorous, almost violent in nature. Because the piece had no real melodic center, I focused more on the composition's mood and thickness, which Tsuruta commanded deftly. Midway through the first movement, a steady onslaught of notes yielded to a single tone repeated three times, with a longer wait each time. The movement ended in an opposite fashion, as if entering—and then leaving—a dream. It was sublime.
  1. Carnaval: Scene mignonne sur quatre notes, Op. 9

  2. Preambule
    Pierrot
    Arlequin
    Valse noble
    Eusebius
    Florestan
    Coquette
    Replique
    [Sphinxes]
    Papillons
    A.S.C.H. – S.C.H.A.
    Chiarina
    Chopin
    Estrella
    Reconnaissance
    Pantalon et Colombine
    Valse allemande
    Paganini
    Aveu
    Promenade
    Pause
    Marche des "Davidsbundler" contre les Philistins
The melancholy self-portrait Carnaval reveals the many facets of Robert Schumann's musical personality. Contrasting introverted and outgoing segments gave Tsuruta the freedom to show both youthful exuberance and lyrical beauty in her playing, lending the recital a much more personal touch. Although there are twenty-one segments of Carnaval, many are only fifteen or thirty seconds long, so the entire cycle is less than half an hour in length. Nevertheless, at times the audience seemed to be tiring; papers ruffled, chairs creaked, but Tsuruta was unfazed.

As the pianist lowered her hands to her side, a warm applause followed. Tsuruta left the stage, then returned, then left again. Making her second return trip to center stage, she interrupted the clapping with a few words. "I'd like to thank everyone for attending, especially my parents, who flew in from their home in Michigan. Today is their 34th anniversary. And, in fact, today is also my 33rd birthday."

When an impromptu applause began to fade, Tsuruta added a final note. "For my final piece, I would like to perform the Valse allemande, my favorite movement from Carnaval."

Silence fell instantly upon the recital hall, as every last member of the audience realized they were witnessing not a concert but a heartfelt present from a loving daughter to two profoundly proud parents. The short piece that followed was not the most impressive or even the best performance of the evening. (Tsuruta stumbled on two notes towards the end.) But it was undoubtedly the most compassionate of Ayako Tsuruta's lyrical love letters.

Carnaval is often criticized for its spots of crudeness and immaturity, but as I then understood, it was the perfect selection for such an occasion. Passionate. Flawed. Intensely personal. Tsuruta showed her parents how far she's come in 33 years, but she also reminded them how little she's changed. There's no way I can fully understand how Tsuruta or her parents felt that afternoon. But I do know it was an experience that will remain with me always, a fulfilling Sunday that demonstrated one more conduit of music's power.

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