I’ve always wanted to see Li Yundi live, but when I saw this in the NJPAC season brochure I wasn’t sure if it’s worthwhile: Liszt’s Concerto No. 1, with Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben, because I don’t care for Liszt too much, nor for R. Strauss. Then a week before the concert NJPAC ran a promotion of buy 1 get 1 free. Cheap as I am, I bought the tickets right away, and turned out it’s indeed a very good bargain.

The Gewandhaus has gotta be the weirdest name for an orchestra. It’s the assembly hall of the cloth traders, i.e. the “Garment House”, as the first concert hall the orchestra played in. After our one-day trip to Leipzig in 2003, we felt it’s a run-down East Germany city with few faint shimmers of its glorious past. I was a bit skeptical about the orchestra, since virtually all descriptions I’ve seen start with “one of the oldest orchestras in the world” and “Mendelssohn was one of its early directors”–sounds like the Chinese boasting about our 5K-year history, doesn’t it. You don’t need such description, or any description, when you mention Berlin Philharmonic or Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Ricardo Chailly is no stranger to operatic sounds and emotions, so he’s quite fit for R. Strauss’ flamboyant tone. I heard Don Juan once or twice, but never Ein Heldenleben. I wish I were more familiar with Strauss’ stuff, which would make it more fun to pick them out from Ein Heldenleben–I could only recognize Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegels. Speaking of T.E., I just figured out a great translation: 田伯君正传–how about that?

The highlight of the concert is of course Li Yundi. He’s definitely grown up from his Chopin-winning age, and possesses some superstar quality–even more than Lang Lang, who sometimes seems more like an entertainer than a great pianist. I’m not saying that a great pianist has to be austere, and entertaining the crowd is always important, but just don’t overdo it.

(I just watched a PBS program on Barenboim, at the end giving master classes to young pianists, the first being Lang Lang. An interview precedes the class, in which Lang Lang told how he grew up to be a pianist. He mentioned Liszt’s Hungary Rhapsody No. 2 played by Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny. I had thought about them but didn’t want to expose my naivety, but hey, even Lang Lang loves them!)

I’m not familiar with the piece enough to judge the performance. Liszt, and even more so Schumann, often have their emotions oozing all over their compositions. That’s typical of high Romanticism, but they never have long-lasting effects in me as Bach, Mozart, or Chopin.