“Fan gives fantastic close to National Gallery’s American Music Festival”
Pianist Joel Fan (a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble) played a terrific lunchtime recital at the National Gallery on Wednesday of works by American composers who have embraced both the romantic past and a more dissonant present.
Elliott Carter’s seminal 1945 Piano Sonata may have ranked as the program’s most significant work — a watershed piece that shows his early Copland-esque style morphing into the 12-tone rigors of his later years — but the afternoon’s highlight was Leon Kirchner’s 2006 Piano Sonata No. 3. A work commissioned, premiered and recorded by Fan (a former student of the composer’s at Harvard), the sonata is one of those intoxicating Kirchner cocktails of Lisztian rhapsody, Straussian opulence, mercurial shifts of emotion that evoke Mahler, and 12-tone structures that only rarely yield harshness.
Sets of miniatures by William Bolcom (who uses dissonance only as a seasoning in his wry “Nine New Bagatelles”) and Derek Bermel (weaving Thelonious Monk harmonies, swung rhythms and atonality into the pungent “Funk Studies”) completed an uncommonly cogent and absorbing program. Nothing in these daunting scores — the Carter most punishing of all — ruffled Fan’s commanding technique, and he deserves special praise for the spontaneity, wit and emotional urgency he drew from music that in other hands might sound merely thorny.
“Fan is hardly a child prodigy. Despite his youthful looks he is now 40, and he has a lot of playing time behind him. That experience explains his awesome musicianship, but also his natural sensitivity to the emotional side of music, and control of fine nuances… The sound is clearer and more detailed than if one had good seats to a concert.” –Gerard Rejskind, Ultra High Fidelity (Canada)
“[Fan] offers nine stunningly brilliant renditions drawn from a wide range of styles and sources… Capping it all off is an arresting interpretation of Samuel Barber’s fearsome 1949 Piano Sonata. Wow.” –John Terauds,Toronto Star – [Artistic Quality:10, Sound Quality 10] – Complete Review
“Fan is just marvelous… A well-curated, excellently engineered program of this caliber warrants our highest recommendation.” –Jed Distler,ClassicsToday.com – [Artistic Quality:10, Sound Quality 10] – Complete Review
“Fan’s piano textures are worth hearing in themselves, for he is an exceptionally fluent, lyrical player with a fine sense of mystery in the slow movements of the piano sonatas by Ginastera and Barber… The result is a program that alternates very gracefully between simpler and more complicated pieces; the music almost seems to breathe and ruminate on the nature of Americanness… With fine engineering, this is a masterful performance.” –All Music Guide - (****1/2 performance/****1/2 sound) – Complete Review
“Fan’s rendition of Barber’s technically challenging sonata, whose knockout last movement was written at the insistence of Vladimir Horowitz, is the performance by which most listeners will judge his achievement. He acquits himself wonderfully, even when compared to Horowitz and speed demon Marc-Andre Hamelin. The adagio is especially touching, and becomes more moving with repeated listening.” –Jason Victor Serinus,San Francisco Classical Voice – Complete Review
“His playing was the picture of textural clarity… The program’s highlight was the New York premiere of William Bolcom’s Nine New Bagatelles, a set of aphoristic, vividly drawn character pieces… Mr. Fan gave it an agile reading, with delicacy and heft carefully balanced.” –Allan Kozinn, The New York Times (about the CD release recital, 4/2009)
Acclaimed as a “superb” (The Boston Globe), “extraordinary” (The Village Voice), and “versatile and sensitive pianist” (The Washington Post), Joel Fan combines virtuosity with a gift for lyricism. Mr. Fan began his performing career with the New York Philharmonic at age 11, as a winner of the Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concert Auditions, and has since appeared in recital and with orchestras throughout the world. Fan’s eclectic repertoire spans traditional piano classics and concertos, his own piano transcriptions and cadenzas, and newly commissioned works. Recently, Fan has performed to critical acclaim with orchestras in the United States such as the New York Philharmonic, Albany Symphony, the Santa Fe Pro Musica, Greater Bridgeport Symphony, Glacier Symphony and Chorale, Pueblo Symphony, Marion Philharmonic and Rhode Island Philharmonic. Internationally, Fan’s concerto appearances include Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, New Symphony Orchestra of Bulgaria, London Sinfonietta, and Singapore Symphony. Fan has collaborated with conductors such as Zubin Mehta, David Zinman, David Alan Miller, Larry Rachleff, Gustav Meier, David Robertson and Alan Gilbert. Fan made his BBC Proms Debut at Royal Albert Hall with London Sinfonietta in Bright Sheng’s Song and Dance of Tears. Fan’s schedule includes recent notable performances: in May 2006, Fan performed the Beethoven Triple Concerto with the New York Philharmonic and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, David Zinman conducting; in August 2006, Fan made his debut at the Saito Kinen Festival of Matsumoto, Japan. In November 2006, Fan performed the world premiere of Leon Kirchner’s Sonata No. 3 in a solo recital at Pickman Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fan’s debut solo recording World Keys was released in June 2006 on the Reference Recordings label, and includes works of Prokofiev, Schumann, Liszt, and world premiere recordings of works by Dia Succari, Qigang Chen, Peter Sculthorpe and Peteris Vasks. World Keys debuted at #3 on the Billboard Classical Chart. Called a “soaring talent- a technical wonder” by The Los Angeles Times, Fan was a prizewinner of several international competitions, such as the D’Angelo Young Artists International Competition in the United States and Busoni International Piano Competition in Italy. In addition he was the recipient of Kosciuszko Foundation’s Chopin Prize, and named a Presidential Scholar by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Fan is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and has appeared in numerous performances with the Ensemble at venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, as well as on the television shows Good Morning America and David Letterman. Fan’s work appears on Sony Classical recordings of the Silk Road Ensemble. As a media presence, Fan has appeared in publications ranging from the Asian Wall Street Journal and CNET News to the Dagens Nyheter of Sweden. A native New Yorker, Fan received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University, where his teachers included the composer Leon Kirchner. He also holds a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance from Peabody Conservatory as a student of Leon Fleisher.