Adrew Li Concert
By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: The Steinway Society

Silicon Valley, CA-- In his recorded debut concert, presented online by the Steinway Society the Bay Area HOME CONCERT HALL Series, from January 22 to January 25, 2021,   ANDREW  Li,  demonstrated the mastery of  his piano technique in a concert, which included  the variations of  Beethoven and Brahms, Chopin's Polonaise Fantastique and the ballet music of Stravinsky's Petrushka

In musical terminology, a Variation is described as a theme, a simple tune in binary form ranging in length between 16 and thirty two measures, which is repeated, but modified, when we hear it again. The variations's theme is frequently borrowed by a composer, from the music of another composer, in which case when repeated, we may hear only part of the theme. When we listen to the variations, the theme should be easily recognized even when it is presented in a number of modifications (from 4 to even 30) and may sound slightly different. Because of this, each variation may be considered as an individual musical composition.

Li's first rendition, Beethoven's Six Variations for piano in F Major, OP 34, is a very difficult piece to interpret, and the reason is that when composing it, Beethoven (who was beginning to lose his hearing) threw most of the basic rules of Variations' Writing out of the window, and instead of maintaining the same key, and the same tempo for all the variations, wrote each variation in a different key, with a different meter and with a different tempo, with their keys descending a circle of thirds. From the F Major, the time of the first variation, through D Major, and from G Major to E flat Major, ending the variations in C minor, with the last of them having a miniature coda which prepares it for the return of the home key of the concluding variation, before the work comes to an end with an intricate reprise of the theme .  

Adrew Li at Piano

Li began playing his first variation stately, introducing the theme softly, in Adagio (at ease) tempo and each one of his fingers playing every note with precision.  After a short coda, the theme was repeated once and then followed by a long elaborate coda of running arpeggios and thrills on the right hand which ends the variation. He paused for a few seconds to indicate its end.

In the second variation, the theme is heard in the low tones and it has a martial beat. In its structure, the work invokes a coda. It is elaborate, its tempo is played faster and its volume is louder. Its ornamented execution includes fast arpeggios and thrills played in the right hand, embellishing the theme that is heard in the lower notes.

Li's feeling, in his interpretation of the third variation, which moves in a flowing quaver motion and is played in the middle part of the piano by both hands, was masterful, specially when playing the theme at the end, ornamented by arpeggios and again pausing when it ended. 

The fourth variation, the most beautiful in our opinion, is a minuet which introduces the theme followed by fast arpeggios going up and down the higher tones of the keyboard.  Interpreted with a very gentle touch, as Li did, it gave the music such an ethereal sound that the melody seemed to be floating on the air.

In contrast with the previous variation, the 5th if a funeral march. In this variation, the theme is played in the lower keyboard, in a march tempo, with orchestral outbursts simulated by loud arpeggios going up and down the keyboard in the upper tones. In the 6th and last variation the theme is transformed. Repeated several time in the lower notes, followed by a bravura performance of music played loud, accompanied by fast arpeggios. before the theme is heard in the upper range played very softly, at slow tempo as is the music is dying. Slowly, its volume began decreasing, little by little until it stops.

And,  if  his execution of the  first set of variations, had not yet convinced his audience of  his mastery in interpretation. Li followed his variations with Johannes Brahms's Variations on a theme of Paganini, Opus 35, based on Niccolo Paganini's  Caprice No 24 in a minor, Opus 35. Written by  Brahms in l863,  this piece was not  intended by Brahms, to be a theme and variations work, which is the reason why  he  published with the title of  Studies for pianoforte: variations on a Theme of Paganini. What the composer wanted to do with these pieces, was to drill pianists on piano's  techniques which could strengthen their fingers, learn to play arpeggios, or perfect  a particular musical skill using the accurate digitations of fingers playing fast notes in the left hand, playing fast notes with both hands,, crossing of hands, playing ostenato in one hand while playing fast chords with the other, to name a few. Each study is very difficult to perform properly, and Brahms. knowing the difficulty of each one, did not expected beginners to be able to try to play his studies, so he dedicated them to piano virtuoso Carl Tausig.

Because of their difficulty, it actually takes a piano virtuoso not only to play them correctly, but to be able to give them the emotional depth and execute their technical challenges. By presenting them in his debut concert, Andrew Li demonstrated his audience that he not only had the courage to play them for an audience, but that he knew that he could master them, which he did.

Andrew Li

Li's next work was Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major Op.61 that was written for piano in l846. The work has the meter of the polonaise, its rhythm and some of its characteristic, but its A -flat major key, parallels with the key of Chopin's Fantaisie in F minor and includes its tonality in the middle section and the motive. This piece may also represent a change in Chopin's Style, because of its intricate form and its harmonic complexity. We could say that interpreting this piece at the piano, brought the best in Li, who made it the most powerful interpretation in his concert.

In IGOR STRAVINSKY'Petrushka, his last piece,  Li  again reiterated to his audience his ability for interpretation, because, as some of you may know, Petrushka, is actually the music of a ballet, so when interpreting on the piano, the pianist is required to recreate (in his execution) not only the story , but each one of its characters, using his dynamics,his tempo, his ornamentations, and his interpretation.

When STRAVINSKY based his music on the story of a Russian stock character known as Petrushka ( a character similar to Charlie Chaplin, which aside from being clownish, is good and kind man) between August l910 and May l911, he wrote it for a Russian Ballet that was conducted by Pierre Monteux in Paris on June 13, l911.  In the ballet, however, Petrushka is a puppet, one of three puppets a Magician is presented as a show, in Russian fair. The other two puppets are a beautiful ballerina and a strong Black Moor.  In the ballet, however, the puppets like humans, have feelings and Petrushka is in love with the ballerina, but she is infatuated with the tall strong Moor, who at the end of the ballet, kills Petrushka.

Knowing the story of the ballet, as we listen to Li's rendition of the music, we could imagine the fair, the sounds of the people talking, the entrance of the magician, and of each one of the dancing puppets and at the end, the tragedy,being interpreted with different dynamics, changes of tempo, or sounds, interpreted at the piano.

From the point of view of the audience, however, to be able for them to understand Li's mastery in his piano interpretations the streaming of his concert could have been better if it had shown a program at its beginning, giving the audiencie not only the names of the composers of the music the pianist was playing, but the names of their compositions.

In the case of Brahms, even add in the program a short explanation on the difference of Variations and Studies, which are not base on a theme, but their purpose is to drill the pianist in the execution of scales, arpeggios, hands cross overs and other thechniques to improve their playing. . Also the program could have included brief story of the ballet Petrushka, because knowing the story could have helped the audience to become aware of how Li' was relating the ballet story, including each character, when playing the ballet's music, and understand his masterly in music interpretation.