posted 2011-04-27 12:00:33

Emotions Run High in Lang Hall

Pianist and adjunct professor Quynh T. Nguyen.
Pianist and adjunct professor Quynh T. Nguyen.
Emotions Run High in Lang Hall

Professor Quynh T. Nguyen Tells Stories Through Music

Yuliya Kozachenko

Contributing Writer

Quynh T. Nguyen, an adjunct professor of music at Hunter College, gathered a full house for her recital on Apr. 1.

A musical prodigy, Nguyen had her first recital at eight and has won numerous competitions and scholarships since. Nguyen graduated from The Juilliard School, Mannes College of Music, and the CUNY Graduate Center before teaching music courses at Hunter.

After a few moments of hushed tension in the packed Lang Recital Hall, Nguyen broke the spell with the melancholic opening notes of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, “Les Adieux.” From the beginning chords, Nguyen was completely absorbed in the piece. Beethoven dedicated the sonata to a friend who was forced to flee Vienna upon the arrival of the French, and in her performance, Nguyen seemed to be lamenting the loss of a dear friend as well.

The main three-note motif, spelling out the word “Le-be-wohl” (“Farewell”), was manipulated to create a wide range of moods and emotions. Themes of absence and eventual reunion expressed by Beethoven over his lost friend were keenly interpreted by Nguyen in her performance.

The emotional journey continued with the next piece: Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat minor. Nguyen, who lists Chopin as one of her favorites, seamlessly glided from the turbulent opening theme to the anxious enthusiasm of the second-movement scherzo to the disconsolate sadness of the famous march and into the finale’s relentless, almost-frantic octaves. Transfixed by Nguyen’s sharp and clean opening, the audience was hushed by her incredibly tender rendition of the funeral march. Her frequent gazes to the ceiling relayed the authenticity of her emotion.

Following an intermission, the recital continued with selections from Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus. Nguyen, a former student of Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen (the second wife of the famous composer), expressed that interpreting Messiaen’s complex pieces and “extra musical meanings” was difficult. Working with his second wife improved Nguyen’s performance of Messiaen’s work as she was able to delve deep inside the composer’s private life through his letters and his wife’s stories.

Indeed, Nguyen’s connection with the music was indisputably strong during her renditions of Messiaen’s pieces. The first one, “Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jesus” (“The Kiss of the Infant Jesus”), mesmerized the audience as well as Nguyen herself with slow, contemplative chords growing louder, faster and more chaotic as the piece progressed.

In his foreword for the piece, Messiaen writes, “…this music, which wishes no more than to be as tender as the heart of Heaven itself.” Nguyen comes close to fulfilling the composer’s wish.

The second Messiaen piece, “Regard de l’Eglise d’amour” (“Gaze of the Church of Love”) is equally laden with religious themes, and caused Nguyen to lift her eyes to the sky. Playing loud, blocky chords and dazzling running notes, she transfused the piece with her intensity and confidence before concluding with a passionate, long coda of Messiaen’s “Theme of God.” Nguyen chose those two Messiaen works to demonstrate the impressive range of his genius.

She finished with another Chopin treat: Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major. In line with the nature of the other pieces, the Ballade is said to be inspired by a poem from Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. After a lengthy and indulgent introduction, Nguyen took the audience on an uplifting journey. Her performance captured the joyous elegance of the main theme and mastered the expressive thrills of the second movement. When the main theme reappeared in C sharp minor, the emerging agitation turned palpable thanks to Nguyen’s remarkable ability to emote. Tidal waves of emotion washed over the audience in a series of rising octaves and chords leading to the piece’s climax.

Nguyen concluded her performance with a much-requested encore, and an ebullient show of gratitude to her audience.

A similar sentiment was expressed when asked why she has such great love for the piano. “It is a part of me,” she says with a smile, “it speaks to me, moves me and gives me power to move the audience and sway emotion.”

Nguyen explains that the pieces in the program all share a sense of story, and believes interpreting the individual stories to the audience gives more meaning to the music she is playing.

Quynh T. Nguyen will have another recital during the Fall 2011 semester, and will be participating in Hunter College’s Chopin vs. Liszt Marathon on Thursday, May 12.