It started at 8pm, here’s a live (was for a while) recount. All notables are alumnus.
First piece is John Williams conducting the school orchestra playing a Schumann. Not impressed: students are students.
Then Renee Fleming sang two opera pieces. Not impressed: I never like opera. Maybe I’m not old enough yet.
Emanual Ax played a Brahms quintet movement with the Juilliard String Quartet. Quartet is another thing that I’m not old enough to enjoy. The sound is terrible: I hope it’s just because I’m listening through TV’s speakers. The strings sound not too bad like “killing a cock”, but not too far from “pulling a saw”, and the piano sounded out of sync. JSQ has always been one of the premier quartets in the world, and although Ax isn’t selected into Philips’ Great 20th Century Pianists, he’s been a constant presence on stage lately, so it must be mic placement and mixing.
Then to my surprise, Kevin Spacey introduced the drama division, which I never knew there is, what a shame. Students played a piece with Kevin Kline (among alumni like Christopher Reeves, Robin Williams, and Laura Linney). Not bad.
Then two dance pieces. I don’t like the music. Noisy meaningless modern.
Perlman is still Perlman. He played the Schindler’s List theme composed by who else but the tireless John Williams. It’s the most beautiful melody Lord Williams has ever composed. Surely beats Star Wars!
Then Wynton Marsalis, incredibly also an alumni, introduced a student jazz band with a cherubic Japanese playing the bass (BTW there’re lots of Asian faces in the school orchestra, nice).
Robin Williams popped out to say a few wacky words of congratulations. He’s always funny as hell. First line: “Thank you Juilliard, for letting me study, but not graduate.” Last line: “Nice place, a bit like prison, but with cello…”
Now 13-year-old Peng Peng is playing 1st movement of Rachmaninoff No. 2 (it’s the finale piece). I don’t know what is bad and what is worse this time: Mic placement and mixing? John Williams? The school orchestra? This oh-so-not-cute boy? Or my ears?
God it’s finally over. It’s played so god-damn slow! I always find the opening extraordinarily moving as the strings lift off from the heart-pounding piano strikes, always evoking an image of a huge grey tettered bird soaring over the endless frozen Russian field in the last day of winter, calling life to rebound. Mr. Peng & Company do try to fly but stumble at every flapping of their oh-so-tender wings, picking up dirt and frozen rotten potatos along the way.
I’m a bit ashamed to say that it’s my favorite piano concerto, because it’s such a popular one. The first CD I bought in America was a used Rubinstein/Reiner/CSO’s what-else-but Rachmaninoff 2 and the Paganini Rhapsody. The most memorable purchase was after the China Orchestra/Lang Lang concert last year with Lang Lang’s signature, including what-else-but Rachmaninoff 2 and the Paganini Rhapsody. I’ve heard a few other performances on TV and I’m proud to announce that I’ve heard the worst tonight.
Am I asking too much from this new supposed phenom from China? Is it fair to compare him to Kissin’s “legendary” double Chopin concertos performance at about the same age? Peng Peng looks like a 30-year-old with the huge glasses and artificially agonized face–give me a break! Haven’t we seen enough of that from Lang Lang and Li Yundi? Speaking of Lang Lang, he does play well and flamboyantly like a rock star, but people are saying that his constant touring does not leave enough time for him to practice and improve. Even the name Peng Peng is an obnoxious ripoff from Lang Lang, since his Chinese name is actually 龚天鹏 (took me the longest time ever to find something from Google).
Hopefully Juilliard can teach him something, or he can at least look up to the list of Van Cliburn, James Levine, Ma Yo-Yo, Nigel Kennedy, Miles Davis (dropped out, what da ya expect) and Alan Greenspan (he studied saxophone) et al to learn something himself.