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Sae Yoon Chon: Salon Stylings

The Parisian salons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were concerts in small venues, sponsored by private patrons, in which musicians played for small audiences, new compositions were tried out, and avid listeners gathered to hear the newest music and musicians. Sometimes, musicians held their own salons. How did one get invited to attend a salon or perform at one? By knowing someone who knew someone who ultimately knew the generous hosts. The salon has reincarnated in our time as the house concert. I am old school and insist on calling house concerts salons. The literary giant Proust reviewed salon performances; I am reviewing this one.

Sae Yoon Chon is a very talented young pianist who has already performed with orchestras and won prizes in important piano competitions. I think that his greatest attribute is his beautiful tone production, which comes from his touch.

He began with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor from the second book. He made excellent use of rhythmic nuance in the dotted rhythms of the prelude. Overdotting is to be expected; it need not be exactly double dotting, and Chon used this flexibility to great advantage. The fugue was easy to follow because he understood it and executed it very clearly.

Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 10 No. 2 was performed logically and beautifully. After the performance, Chon was asked how he memorized his music, and he replied that he involved himself closely with all of the music and then the memorization came easily. Indeed, as one of my friends remarked, his performance had the quality of someone listening closely and feeling his way through the music, rather than the repetition of a predictable performance.

Chon's performance of Chopin’s Etude Opus 25 No. 10 impressed the audience both by the virtuosity of the octave passage and by the singing tone in the quieter middle section.

Ligeti’s Etude No. 16 was played with great care and subtlety. Without Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, few people would ever have heard the works of this composer. Another friend remarked that the first part of the piece sounded like individual beautiful stars, and that at a moment they all fell from the sky. Indeed this is the design of Ligeti’s later works. He sought to express the sudden changes of chaos theory in the form of his pieces.

Chon was at his finest, I think, in Debussy’s prelude ‘Footprints in the snow’. Here his tone was so beautiful it seemed to be in the French piano tradition of jeu perlé, in which every note must sound like a beautiful pearl.

Last on the program were two works on a Spanish theme: Albeniz’s Iberia No. 4, and Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole. The variety of touch, tempo, and density were all well executed, and to very good effect.

To please the eager audience, Chon played a movement of Prokofiev’s eighth sonata as an encore. We will be hearing more of this excellent young pianist, a great deal more, I think, and I am very much looking forward to that.

Pianist Sae Yoon Chon

Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

​Oakville ON February 25th 2018