Daniel Hsu

Pianist

Author: Michael Bellinson

Eugene Register-Guard: Six questions with Daniel Hsu

CAFE 541: Six questions with Daniel Hsu

by Matthew Denis, The Register-Guard
published March 12, 2020

[…]

Matthew Denis: “Almost every quote about you refers back to the feeling or emotion within your music. Where does the emotion come from within your music and do you purposely play with that feeling — is it intended?”

Daniel Hsu: “I think music inherently is an extremely personal thing. It’s an art form, just like every other kind of art, it’s extremely personal and individual. … I personally believe that as a musician or as a performer, it’s our responsibility to interpret and bring to life the original composer’s intentions. In the case of classical music, there’s a lot of stuff written into the music. There’s history and what was going on in the composer’s life and what each piece might be about. At the same time, I also feel like the performer’s personal experiences influence the music. Ultimately, music is about communicating something — a story and emotions that you aren’t able to say in other ways. And every performance is an opportunity to express that story. That’s the charge of playing piano for me.”

Read the full interview here.

The Courier & Press: Philharmonic wows audience with dramatic effort

Review: Philharmonic wows audience with dramatic effort

by William Hemminger, The Courier & Press
published September 30, 2019

[…]

The Rachmaninoff concerto was an absolute delight. Prodigy pianist Daniel Hsu plays with utmost sensitivity and grace and has no difficulty executing all the technical demands of the well-known concerto. Jackson worked very well with the soloist, never overpowering the piano, always maintaining appropriate tempos. For me the highlight was the second movement: the solo piano strums a wistful accompaniment to a soaring flute solo (well done by Leanne Hampton) that is taken up and extended by the clarinet (played beautifully by Thomas Josenhans). The third movement moved dramatically to its conclusion, after which Hsu favored the audience with an encore—an elegant performance of Schumann’s Träumerei.

Read the full review here.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer: Daniel Hsu Masterful in Musical Pictures

Daniel Hsu Masterful in Musical Pictures

by Leon Golub, The Boston Musical Intelligencer
published March 31, 2019

San Francisco native Daniel Hsu delivered a powerful, thoughtful, and sensitive program of piano works connected by strong imagery and an enigmatic French-Russian dimension, as part of the first-rate concerts sponsored by the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts. This deeply inquisitive artist’s inner probing brought fresh meaning to great warhorses, reaching well beyond his stunning mastery of technical difficulties.

On Saturday night at Jordan Hall, Hsu warmed up with the Bach Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Major, BWV 848. Playing without damper pedal and employing a light touch, he emphasized the melody, giving the prelude a reflective, pensive reading. The fugue emerged with the distinctive liveliness of a newly-formed idea, receiving thoughtful pedal colorations in the episodes. Hsu basically turned the piece into a subtle tableau of how thought arises from reflection with a sort of soaring integrity, uncontaminated by emotion or sentimentality.

Rachmaninoff’s Etude-Tableaux, Op. 39, No. 5, presents challenges on every level — technical, musical, and emotional. It is the largest of the composer’s second set of “picture studies,” harmonically elaborate, at times hinting at the Dies Irae, depicting no specific image (“form your own picture,” Rachmaninoff wrote), but displaying complex and turbulent emotions throughout. Hsu’s delivery of this complexity took our breath away. His exceptional control maintained clarity and transparency even in the deep registers, allowing the long melodic lines to sound out clearly. He managed to imbue isolated upper notes with a hint of hesitancy, which gave the cathartic momentum all the more expressive power, as of lava breaking through a thin surface.

Tchaikovsky’s virtuosic one-movement Dumka, Op. 59 in C Minor, “Scène Rustique Russe,” is one of the composer’s most successful piano works. Dedicated to the French pianist and composer Antoine Marmontel, it brilliantly conveys the form’s characteristic manic-depressive shifts from melancholy to wild exuberance. Hsu magically evoked images of the soul in a Russian village (mir or shtetl), bringing out the perennial misery, hope and manic outbreaks of local folk themes. He opened with a deep melancholy, vast as the flat steppes, a beautiful rich and earthy tone tinged with spiritual yearning. Carefully shaping the upper register triplets so as to produce a shiver down the spine, Hsu navigated us into the increasing joy of the first manic episode, building to the frenetic extroversion and sense of collective connectedness that come from rhythm and dance (Russian peasant sobornost, so dear to Dostoevsky). Wild arpeggios and rapid, powerful double octaves culminated in a manic joviality before receding back down to an even deeper melancholy where human life sinks into back-breaking daily labor, endless as the Russian horizon.

Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 took many years to reach its current status. Schumann, who had earlier praised Chopin (“Hats off, gentlemen, a genius”), said that calling this work a sonata was a joke: “for he has simply bound together four of his most unruly children.” Other than the Marche funèbre third movement, the sonata rarely figured in 19th century concerts. Only some 70 years later did the world catch on to what Chopin had accomplished.

Hsu made the sonata his own, in an interpretation unlike anyone else’s, yet entirely convincing, boldly imbued with deep existential meaning right from the opening Grave, here conveyed not as heralding our mortality but as confronting the soul with the massive threat and seductiveness of fleshly gratification. The doppio movimento then emerged as a racing, fiery and frantic attempt to escape from the seductive ambush. Hsu took the second theme,  piano and sustenuto as indicated, evoking a spiritual self-possession of repose and delight; the closing theme then embraced the flight itself as a source of jouissance. The scherzo continued the atmosphere of struggle between flesh and soul, played rapidly but with an effervescent touch, bringing out the mazurka dance-like aspect of the scherzo theme, against which the trio section seemed to protest with a wistful and waltz-like voice, only to face anew the return of the ominous mazurka, mocking, devouring and threatening.

Hsu opened the funeral march at rather than pp and carried the sustained crescendo nicely to the sudden outburst of ff, his control of the dynamics bringing out the tragic emotions. In the trio he emphasized the right hand cantabile, the slow, very light  left-hand arpeggios sounded like a harp accompaniment. The effect was one of soaring, idyllic beauty, as though affirming that “we are spirits in a physical world.” In the inexorable return of the marche we felt the weight of the flesh as a motion toward inevitable decay and annihilation. Hsu’s rendering of the mysterious finale — soft and rapid, brief pedal coordinated with the phrasing almost as a flutter pedal — produced the eerie feeling of returning dust to dust.

The second half opened with Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 8 in C Minor, “Wilde Jagd”. The Wild Hunt was a widespread folkloric theme, ranging from Brittany to Slovenia, depicting a spectral hunting group and portending death, war, or personal destruction. Hsu’s percussive and exciting opening preceded a light-hearted and joyful main theme, but grew more heated and wild, with a threatening undercurrent. Crouched over the keyboard, Hsu implied that the composer must wrestle with the terrifying demons of his own genius, risking destruction in the effort, never to come through it unscathed. After the demonic recapitulation, the coda filled with violent forces, the cadence becoming definitive, unavoidable.

Mussorgsky’s famous suite was originally known as Pictures from an Exhibition, “A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann.” A year after the painter’s sudden death came a memorial exhibition of hundreds of his works and the composer’s subsequent set of musical pictures or denkmals,  occasions for reflection. Though he wrote the solo piano score in 1874, publication did not come until 1886, five years after Mussorgsky’s death, with “corrections” by Rimsky-Korsakov, who failed to understand some of the modernist elements. Dozens have since orchestrated it, Ravel’s being only the most well-known.

In Hsu’s thoughtful reading in this commemorative spirit, the Promenade appearances ranged from a bold setting out with great expectations, to a reflective and dreamy mood, to a beautifully executed light and delicate tremolo in the con mortuis in lingua mortua. He skillfully gave each picture its own style: sudden erratic twists and jumps with rapid mood changes in the Gnomus, elegiac nobility in the Il vecchio castello, smooth and voluptuous. Bydlo started properly ff, crushing, heavy and blind. Hsu took full advantage of the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks to evoke a strange and alien fluttering realm. In the powerful dark chords of the Catacombae, he evoked a realm in which time has vanished. His emphasis of the powerful, sharp chords of Baba Yaga made the riddle of death ferocious and terrifying, yet led straight into a grand and noble climax with the depiction of Hartmann’s Gates of Kiev as only a design. The resultant musical apotheosis, the concluding coda a marcato, celebrated art over death. A single brief encore, Schumann’s Traumerei, played with marvelous tenderness, left us in a suitably dreamy state after a massive, magnificent, and memorable performance.

Leon Golub is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and has been a lover of classical music for over 50 years.

Read the full review here.

Source: https://www.classical-scene.com/2019/03/31/hsu-pictures/

Voice of OC: Curiosity and Surprise Fuel Daniel Hsu as He Prepares to Perform

Curiosity and Surprise Fuel Daniel Hsu as He Prepares to Perform

by Peter Lefevre, Voice of OC
published November 27, 2018

Pianist Daniel Hsu has met with more than a fair share of success in his comparatively young career. From his launching pad as a student of Gary Graffman’s at the Curtis Institute, the 21-year-old California native has already appeared as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, won first prize at the 2015 Concert Artists Guild Competition, and the bronze medal at the 15th Van Cliburn Competition, and just last year made his Carnegie Hall debut.

As for how he’s developed his deeply refined aesthetics, he’ll be the first to say that everyone takes a different route, but that curiosity is the key.

“I’ll go on stage with the belief that ‘This is how I want the piece to sound,’” he says, “but I’ll come off thinking ‘Hunh, these ideas worked well but what if I try it like this.’ We’ve had these pieces for hundreds of years, and thousands of pianists have touched them over time, but you never listen to a piece and think ‘That’s it.’ There’s no one way. A piece is always evolving, always changing. As an artist, if you think ‘That’s it, I’m done,’ you’re limiting yourself to one particular way.”

Hsu will be bringing his artistry to Soka University on December 2, performing a recital of Beethoven, Chopin, and Schumann. Of the selections he’s prepared, he thinks of the Schumann Fantasy in C Major as the recital’s centerpiece.

“This piece in particular I’ve wanted to play for two or three years,” he says, “and nothing’s ever been lined up for me to present it until now. I’m excited I’m finally able to perform he work in public. I love the piece for so many reasons. For me, it’s one of the pieces that represents Schumann’s core values; it shows so clearly his impulsive, passionate, exterior side along with moments of intense reflection and beauty.”

Also on the program: Schumann’s Arebeske in C Major (“It’s the opus right after the fantasy, in same key, and I really love the pairing”), two works by Chopin—the Grand Polonaise and the Fantaisie in F major—and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31.

It’s an ambitious program forged out of a circuitous process.

“Before I decide to play something, usually there’s a lot of creeping around the piece,” he says. “I’ll be listening to a recital or recording, and hear a piece and think ‘Wow, I really want to play that!’ Or I’ll get a suggestion from a friend. I do a lot of listening and thinking and by the time I sit down, I have a general idea or gist. But then, I cut loose all of the recordings and focus on my own reading, I begin playing for friends, teachers, mentors, and that’s how I develop my own way of thinking around a piece.”

Interestingly, Hsu seems to learn the most about a work when he’s actually on stage playing.

“Once I’m performing it, I get the most insight into a work,” he says. “When I perform I like to believe in the moment, to create a new and different experience each time. Part of the beauty of performing is that every performance is different, every situation is different, how the audience is feeling, me, the piano, the space, all of these things affect the performance and the music that comes out. I learn about my reading and what I think, what the composer wants, and then by marrying them all together I get a better understanding of the piece.”

That said, the process comes with its own unique frustrations and challenges. Finding a way to recreate a great work in a way that satisfies both performer and listener is the perpetual challenge; a challenge Hsu is very familiar with.

“My teacher was Gary Graffman and I used to complain to him all the time,” he says. ‘Am I ever going to play in a way when I’m happy with the performance?’ He told me ‘Daniel, how many times have you played this in concert?’ I’d say ‘This is the third or fourth time.’ He looked at me and laughed, and said ‘Come and talk to me when you reach 50 or 100. Because that’s when you understand and feel comfortable with a piece, that’s when you can really communicate the ideas and execution.’ Maybe he was trying to make me feel better. But there’s a lot of truth in the statement.”

Having been an extremely active performer since his student days, he’s happier with his performances these days. Though it wouldn’t occur to him while he’s performing. In process, on stage, he’s enveloped in the work.

“A lot of people wonder what performers think,” he says. “I focus on the music and what I’m trying to say with this particular performance, and I’m rarely able to jump out while I’m performing. It’s just ‘This is how it’s coming out.’ Afterward, I reflect and think I said what I wanted to say. Usually, I’m happy about that.”

Peter Lefevre us a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He may be reached at palefevre@gmail.com.

Read the full review here.

Source: https://voiceofoc.org/2018/11/arts-lefevre-20181127-pre-hsu/

© 2020 Daniel Hsu