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Pianist Sae Yoon Chon; Photo Credit: Karen E. Reeves

Sae Yoon Chon shows his piano brilliance at Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre!

Toronto Concert Reviews in Toronto

Pianist Sae Yoon Chon; Photo Credit: Karen E. Reeves

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 22nd 2017

I am always surprised when I find regular concert goers who are not aware of the noon-hour musical oasis in the heart of downtown Toronto. The Canadian Opera Company’sFree Concert Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts takes place regularly in the spectacularly casual ambiance of the centre’s glassed in upper lobby. Although the programs are advertised online many months in advance, there can be surprises.

Yesterday’s’s concert was one of those surprises. Korean pianist Sae Yoon Chon who was recently accepted to compete in the 13th Seoul International Music Competition, accordingly changed his program to three of his competition pieces. The competition is held annually for piano, violin and voice, in rotating sequence. The category for the 2017 competition is piano; the competition will be held from March 14-26 in Seoul. There will be 56 pianists in the competition from 9 countries including three Canadians

Adding to the motivation for Sae Yoon Chon to do well is that winning at this competition would release him from the compulsory two years of military service required of all Korean citizens before they reach the age of thirty. Sae Yoon is now 21 and in his second year of the Performance Diploma Program at the Glenn Gould School studying with John O’Conor and James Anagnoson.

The one-hour program of Haydn, Prokofiev and Liszt demonstrated his artistic depth, his meticulous attention to detail, and his extraordinary skill.

Chon began with Joseph Haydn’s Sonata No. 49 in E-flat Major Hob.XVI. The majestic opening soon gave way to Sae Yoon’s clear articulation of the rapid scale passages and his sublime lyricism, especially in the second movement Adagio.  Chon does not need the bravura of athletic show pieces to demonstrate that he possesses extraordinary artistry. The Haydn was heavenly.

What followed was the most personal and intimate of Sergei Prokofiev’s “war sonatas”. Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84 is a long meandering work that seems to reflect the composer’s personal journey of war-time struggles along with a hopefulness for the future. Sae Yoon understands all the nuances of this complex work. It was not his first introduction to Prokofiev, having been a winner in the Glenn Glould School’sConcerto Competition just last month with a performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2. The energy in the third movement Vivace was particularly striking.

Chon added a third work as an encore, Franz Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espanole S.254, R.90. The work is a show-stopper filled with Spanish rhythms and melodies. Liszt wrote the piece to dazzle his audiences with musical acrobatics, and Sae Yoon carried off every aspect of the virtuosic work with brilliance. The tone poem came from Liszt’s concert tour of Spain where he became familiar with Spanish music. There is both a sense of nostalgia along with the excitement of the flamenco in the piece. Chon captured the musical flavours exquisitely.  There doesn’t seem to be any music that is beyond the reach of this amazing young artist.

The COC’s Free Concert Series continues tomorrow, February 23rd at 12pm with soprano Ileana Montalbetti who is currently in the cast of Götterdammerung. Montalbetti will be accompanied by her friend and gifted pianist Rachel Andrist