Henri Dutilleux, Claude Debussy, Frederic Chopin, Francis Poulenc and Franz Liszt.
These are the composers whose works Thomas Yu chose to play at the final concert of the Marysburg Festival of the Arts summer concert series on July 28.
Ever since he won the 2006 International Competition for Outstanding Piano Amateurs in Paris, Yu says France has become like a second home to him, and he put together a program that would have made any French patriot proud.
But before he began to play, Yu told the audience how much it meant to him to come back to play at Marysburg.
“This is the fourth time I’ve been to Marysburg, and Marysburg is very special to me because of Al Gerwing,” Yu said. “I remember when I first met him, and he invited me to play here. He’s someone you never say ‘no’ to, and I want to keep up that legacy.”
In his professional life, Yu is a periodontist with a practice in Calgary. But he also has an alter ego — as an internationally acclaimed pianist. Over the years he has entered and won many prestigious competitions. This summer he will be competing in England at the Royal Northern College of Music International Piano Competition at the end of August.
“Tonight I am going to be playing some of the pieces that I have been preparing for a piano competition in Manchester at the end of August,” Yu told the audience. The first piece is a composition by a French composer, Henri Dutilleux, whom I had the great fortune to meet in Paris six years ago.”
In Paris, Henri Dutilleux (b.1916), is as famous as a “rock star” Yu says, and he was very touched that the composer took the time to meet him. Yu played the “Piano Sonata, Op. 1” that comprises three movements, giving the Marysburg audience a chance to discover a work that is not performed very often in Canada.
While Yu’s touch on the piano at the best of times is crystal clear, in the Debussy, he played as if he were completely detached from the binds of the written note. The music flowed from his fingers onto the keyboard, evoking a sense of freedom in his interpretation of the work by this composer who was inspired by the 19th century impressionist movement.
In the second half of his recital, Yu opened with another piece that would be considered a novelty on most Canadian stages, “Soirees de Nazelles,” by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). Yu explained how the piece came to be written in the 1930s, when the composer attended soirees in the country at Nazelles, a small town west of Paris. It was a game played with other friends around the piano called “Portraits,” where they tried to evoke musical portraits of the kinds of people that would attend these soirees: some old, some young, some sad and lonely, some romantic, et cetera.
For his final number, Yu chose a piece by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Liszt, he explained, was renowned all over Europe for his virtuosic skill as a pianist and also for his habit of transcribing other composers’ works that he admired. For this recital, Yu played Liszt’s transcription of an aria from Verdi’s opera, Rigoletto.
This piece, in contrast with the style typical of the French music he played earlier, was an excellent choice for Yu to show his own virtuosic skill and versatility as a pianist.
In all, it was an eclectic program for a seasoned audience who look forward to each musical interlude the Marysburg Festival of the Arts provides every summer.