Regent Hosts Master Concert Series: Journey Through the Mind

The Dede Robertson Theater auditorium was hushed with anticipation. This past Friday at 7 p.m. was the inaugural Master Concert Series, featuring renowned Steinway artist concert pianist Hsing-ay Hsu. The atmosphere was built by the whispers of excitement and crackling of the paper programs featuring the “5 Acts” Hsu would play from composers Mozart, Debussy, Poulenc, Pärt, Bricusse/Newley, and Mussorgsky. Upon the stage stood the lone Steinway, Spirio | r, waiting for its player to join the stage. 

Pat Robertson introduced the performance and pointed out the beauty of the Spirio | r.  He marveled at how the instrument is the “most extraordinary piece of equipment” and hinted at the prospect of future performances in the concert series. With that, Hsu entered the stage in a glimmering red dress and the audience burst into appreciative applause. According to her featured biography on Steinway & Sons, Hsu began piano at the age of four and has since “performed at such notable venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and abroad in Asia and Europe.” Hsu has won many notable competitions and awards like silver at William Kapell International Piano Competition, gold at Ima Hogg National Competition First Prize, and the prestigious Juilliard William Petschek Recital Award, a McCrane Foundation Artist Grant, a Paul & Daisy Soros Graduate Fellowship Award, and a Gilmore Young Artist Award. 

Following Mr. Roberton’s welcome, Hsu introduced the concept for the evening’s performance, stating that music can be categorized into five dimensions: the conscious, the unconscious, the subconscious, the spacial, and the creative. These dimensions are the various experiences that music can take us to, not one being more important than the other. After her speech,  the night took off into the journey through the mind and toward creativity. Hsu began with “Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 330” by W.A. Mozart, which was the section for the conscious. The first movement featured rippling triplets played with pristine clarity. Hsu swayed as she played, lost in the music. She performed with nuanced care yet also allowed for playfulness in her deft touch. The second and third movements continued with the structured organization of a sonata, before moving into the section of the unconscious that Claude Debussy’s “La Damoiselle élue, L. 62: Prélude” represented. 

Debussy’s piece evoked a sense of mystery and continuation to achieve a sense of unpredictability. As the listener went under the layer of the conscious, so too did the pianist go under the layer of the musical phrases. This piece is centered around a girl in heaven looking down at her lover and him being able to feel her presence. The melody carried somber arpeggios that conveyed longing yet they were also tinged with hope for what was to come.

Moving forward into the subconscious section of the evening, Hsu played a selection from “Improvisations” by Francis Proulenc. Hsu used these pieces to signify how the subconscious is a stream and how authenticity is revealed spontaneously and in pieces like flittering birds, gentle pitter-pattering of rain, and bounding children playing. 

Hsu then went on to challenge listeners with the concept of space, and what space means within the context of music. She encouraged the audience to exhale, and rest in the silence between the notes. With Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” Hsu played with utmost delicacy, yet her left hand with the singular chord kept the entire piece grounded. It was a moment in time in which everyone held their breath and was able to appreciate the stillness that music could create. 

After the moment of complete stillness, time resumed again, and Hsu launched the audience into the future by demonstrating how the Spirio | r can truly perform. She exclaimed how “the future is here” and that the implementation of the Spirio can create connections like never before. She stood back, and the piano began to play by itself! Bricusse/Newley’s “Pure Imagination” began to possess the piano. It exuded the same nuance and care that a human would play with and the dreaminess is ever-present. After that, a video of George Gershwin playing one of his pieces rambunctiously was shown on the screen as the music filled the auditorium. As quickly as the Spirio | r transported viewers to the future, it brought them back with the same precision.

The glorious evening closed out with the concept of the creative dimension with a tribute to Ukraine with a piece called “The Great Gate to Kiev” by Modest Mussorgsky. With the grandiose chords that conveyed an anticipatory victory, Hsu attested to the courage of the Ukrainians currently fighting against Russian forces. The evening ended with Hsu challenging listeners to analyze the quality and creativity of their listening and the evening is drawn to a close.

I was entranced throughout the entire evening, and had the chance to speak with several fellow students in the audience about their thoughts. Benjamin Doan stated in regard to the final piece that he “didn’t know courage had a sound” and he found himself reliving the experience long after the evening was over. Evan Ginter noted, “I’m overjoyed that I was able to make the first in the master concept series at Regent. The selections of the evening were various. It could appeal to any classical music lover or someone who knows very little like myself.” Haylie Bonser found that “Artist Hsing-ay Hsu beautifully played a colorful rendition of several spectacular classical works, giving the audience an immersive and moving experience, both watching and listening to her play. Absolutely beautiful, and a night to remember.”

With that, I urge you to attend future performances for the Master Concert Series, and take your own journey through the various dimensions of music!