News & Press
News & Press
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.
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.
Daniel Hsu Masterful in Musical Pictures
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 p 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.
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 email@example.com.
Read the full review here.
Fremont’s Daniel Hsu breathing fresh air into age-old piano traditions
By Elijah Ho
Silicon Valley is the creative epicenter of the technological universe. The land of Zuckerberg, Sandberg and Brin has nurtured such fertile minds as Menuhin, Stern and Fleisher, heirs to century-old creative traditions. But sometimes, even the oldest traditions can hit refresh and learn a thing or two from new, unhindered ones.
Daniel Hsu, a native of Fremont, is now in the process of absorbing both, and he watches as the two worlds pass each other by. Saturday at the Trianon Theater in San Jose, the Steinway Society presents Hsu, 19, in his first Bay Area concert since his prize-winning performances this summer at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. (He won the bronze medal and captured two best-performance awards.)
When it comes to piano-playing, Gary Graffman, 89, a pupil of Vladimir Horowitz, has seen it all. The former Curtis Institute director remembers the day a 10-year-old boy auditioned against roughly 100 applicants — many of whom were older — and came out on top.
“Daniel played many wrong notes that day, but he was exceptionally musical,” recalls Graffman. “He developed very quickly. By 12 or 13, he was already terrific, not just very talented, but really accomplishing all kinds of things at the instrument.”
Hsu’s prodigious musical gifts would take him from 3rd grade at Weibel Elementary in Fremont to one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the country, following in the footsteps of siblings Ashley and Andrew, who are Curtis alumni.
Ironically, it was there, in the artistic haven of Curtis, that Hsu’s Silicon Valley roots began to surface. He developed an interest in computer programming, and with the help of friends, contributed to the creation of Workflow, a prize-winning app that was acquired by Apple in March of this year.
“Tech is the thing right now. Everybody wants to get in,” Hsu tells me from Curtis in Philadelphia. “One thing I’ve observed in the tech world is how people come together and solve problems. I wish I lived at a time when music was that way.”
While the tech world offers practical solutions for widespread, everyday use, classical music seems to operate in reverse. Composer Arnold Schoenberg believed, “If it is art, it is not for all.” But technology, with its vast popularity, is quickly changing the rules of the game. “I know a lot of engineers who consider their work to be art,” Hsu says. “Just look at what engineers and designers did with phones. It was conception, execution and creation, and that’s what art is.”
Definitions of art are rarely agreed upon, but older traditions tend to have one thing in common: They’re steeped in reliable values — some in the form of close-minded beliefs. One fixation that appears to linger in classical circles is that of race.
“Racism is a deep problem that seems like it will always exist,” Hsu says. “It’s silly to say, just because you’re not German, that you’re incapable of understanding or playing German music. Of course, if you’re playing a work written by a German composer, immerse yourself in the history and the culture. But music has been and always should be a universal language.”
While the tech world currently grapples with sexism, Hsu believes classical music is guilty of a different form of dereliction: nostalgia. In stark contrast with current hiring habits in Silicon Valley, youth is often underappreciated. “They say young people are insensitive, that we just play things. One of the comments I hear most is, ‘You’re young, you don’t understand x-y-z’, and that goes even beyond music.”
Fortunately, keener minds in classical circles are seeing the light. Dang Thai Son, winner of the 1980 International Chopin competition, witnessed Hsu’s gifts firsthand when he coached the younger pianist on Schubert’s Impromptus, which will be performed Saturday in San Jose.
“Rarely do I hear a young person place music-making above winning a competition,” Dang says. “The most impressive thing about Daniel is his sincerity toward music: The truth comes both from his mind and his heart. It was a great joy to work with somebody so young, so self-critical and richly endowed with determination and talent.”
In spite of age-old problems in music, Hsu continues to hone the phenomenal talent that’s been garnering attention since he was a boy in Fremont. Because for all the attractions of the tech world, music itself never disappoints in its unique beauty.
“In music, there isn’t really a problem to solve, but there are many solutions,” Hsu says. “If it were about a single solution and how closely we arrive at it, it wouldn’t really be art. The beauty of music is everybody has something different to say. We really just need to listen to each other.”
THE STEINWAY SOCIETY
Presents pianist Daniel Hsu in a recital of music by Bach-Busoni, Chopin, Hamelin and Schubert
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9
Where: Trianon Theatre, San Jose
Tickets: $40-$60; 408-990-0872, www.steinwaysociety.com
Daniel is delighted to be returning to Fort Worth this week to perform in the "Cliburn in the Community" series. Besides playing with silver medalist, Kenny Broberg at the Sundance Square Plaza, he will be performing for the B-Sharp Youth Music Program, the Alzheimer's Association, and The Stayton at Museum Way. He will also be playing a solo program at the Fort Worth Central Library! Read more about the series and Daniel's schedule here.
Daniel is thrilled to release his first album today on Decca Gold, Cliburn Bronze 2017! Available digitally on iTunes and Spotify, the album includes a selection of his live performances from the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition including his award-winning performance of the commissioned work, Marc-André Hamelin's Toccata on "L'homme armé."
At just 19, Daniel not only captured the bronze medal yesterday at the renowned 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, but was also awarded with the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for Best Performance of a New Work and the Steven De Groote Memorial Award for Best Performance of Chamber Music. Daniel's bronze prize package includes a cash prize of $15,000, three years of career management and United States concert tours, live recording and a recording partnership with Universal Music Group, and a promotional package including press kits and videos.
You can still hear Daniel's performances from the competition at cliburn2017.medici.tv.
(Image Credit: Ralph Lauer)
By Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
with Brentano String Quartet (Mark Steinberg, violin | Serena Canin, violin | Misha Amory, viola | Nina Lee, cello)
This performance of Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor was the opposite of the performance it received on Thursday evening (by Yury Favorin). That time it was controlled and politely played. With Hsu, the passion dial was turned all the way up.
It was an intense experience and Hsu and the quartet took every chance to ramp up the scorching romanticism. Hsu was in constant contact with the quartet and modeled his playing of the material to fit in with that of the quartet. This is the definition of a collaborative pianist.
Collaboration is a common plan among the participants about how the pieces will be played. Therefore, it has to have a place in a virtuoso competition. The pianist must have a monster technique and sure musical ideas, but this is not a concerto with a tiny orchestra. Hsu, and a few others in the quintet round, have understood this. His was a cohesive performance that stands out.
with Fort Worth Symphony and Leonard Slatkin, conductor
The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23, is a surefire winner—and perfect to close the competition considering it was the piece that took Van Cliburn to victory in the 1958 Tchaikovsky competition. With a technical whizzbang pianist like Hsu it can bring the house down. And so it went in this performance. Hsu received a cheering ovation for just walking out on the stage. When it was over, the ovation was riotous.
He played all the notes in a spectacular manner. He obviously knows the concerto and understands Tchaikovsky’s intent and architectural plan from the first notes to the last.
By Peter Dobrin
One of the youngest pianists in the current Van Cliburn International Piano Competition – in progress in Fort Worth, Texas – is a Curtis Institute of Music student well-known to local audiences. Daniel Hsu, one of three Hsu siblings to come through Curtis in the last few years, has been at the school since he was 11.
Now 19, he has made a strong showing at the august Van Cliburn. The competition, held every four years, started May 25 with 30 pianists chosen from 146 who auditioned. Thirty were whittled to 20, who each performed a 45-minute recital. Twenty became 12, among whom is Hsu (as well as Curtis graduate Yekwon Sunwoo).
The results of the next round will be announced Monday. Six competitors will advance to the final round of concerto performances with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra led by Leonard Slatkin. Those performances will be broadcast to movie theaters across the United States on Saturday, with winners announced that night.
We spoke with Hsu – a student of Eleanor Sokoloff’s at Curtis – this week, midcompetition, as he was preparing for the semifinal round of a 60-minute recital and a Mozart concerto with the Fort Worth orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan.
Are you enjoying playing in this competition, or has it been just a lot of stress and pressure?
I would be lying if I said there wasn’t any stress or pressure, but I grew up watching documentaries of the competition, and it never occurred to me that I would actually play in one, so getting to play here and being part of the whole experience is really cool. For example, in the first round, I played Don Juan by Liszt [Réminiscences de Don Juan], and one of my first memories of the Van Cliburn was hearing somebody play that piece … and 10 years later, I am playing it myself here.
Are you able to forget the venue and context and simply focus on the music?
Yes. I’ve been trying to treat it more as a performance than a competition. And I’m good with that for now.
Do you think competitions are fair – in other words, do you think they find the best pianist, however you define that, or the pianist who is the best at playing in competitions?
Well, I think the whole idea of a piano competition, a competition for music, is a bit silly. Music is so personal and unique to the performer. And then having some people you’ve never met in your life come out and critique you or judge you on it and having them say this person is better than the next, that whole idea is a bit absurd.
That is my feeling about competitions in general, not a knock or negative of the Van Cliburn itself. As long as there are humans involved, you can’t really grade. It’s not like a math game where you win or you don’t win. As for whether they find the best pianist, I wouldn’t doubt the jury’s ability, or that they are very wise and would be able to spot the right things. But in the end, this is all personal.
I’ve always had this impression that competitions favor great technique and players who don’t miss notes, rather than finding musicians who have something original to say or who have struck on some interpretive truth. What do you think?
Not speaking about this competition in particular, but sometimes I find that to be true. It really depends on the competition and the jury. Again, it’s so hard to define. If you ask a jury member, ‘Did you pick this person because of technique?’ and they said, ‘No,’ maybe they found their interpretation appealing or suited to their own personal taste. That’s what makes this whole thing so weird – you can’t define any of this.
You are among the younger competitors. Did you ask Mrs. Sokoloff’s advice on whether you should compete, and why did you feel this was a good thing to do now?
I did ask her, and she was very supportive. I would say that whether or not I actually did the competition this year, I don’t think it made a big difference for me in terms of – I am young, and decided to do the competition because I got concerts playing the Franck Piano Quintet and a Tchaikovsky concerto, and they were specific piece requests and they fit well into the Cliburn. And so I just needed to piece together the solo recitals.
Do you bring any kind of strategy into the competition?
I don’t have much of a strategy. Everyone here has something different to say, and my strategy – and I’m not sure it’s a winning strategy, but it’s a strategy – is to go on stage and make music, be sincere, and play my heart out. And if I don’t advance, that’s OK.
Performances can be viewed at www.cliburn.org. Tickets to the broadcast of the Saturday finals – being shown in area movie theaters, including the Riverview Plaza 17 and King of Prussia Stadium 16 – are available at www.FathomEvents.com.