Seamless piano parts 'sound like one breath' - Albuquerque Journal

Seamless piano parts ‘sound like one breath’

Pianist Claire Huangci returns to Santa Fe to perform with the Santa Fe Concert Association Orchestra on New Year’s Eve.
Pianist Claire Huangci returns to Santa Fe to perform with the Santa Fe Concert Association Orchestra on New Year’s Eve.

Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D Minor is one of those pieces that Claire Huangci has heard about for years and never played. Her wish to perform the work, which she says is quite popular in Europe, will come true on New Year’s Eve.

Huangci is a guest artist with the Santa Fe Concert Association and plays this 1932 piece with the association’s artistic director Joseph Illick during a 5 p.m. concert at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. Illick plays the first piano part and conducts the Santa Fe Concert Association Orchestra.

“It’s a special piece,” said Huangci by phone from Germany, where she is working on her doctorate in music. “It’s one of the main concertos for two pianos. The two pianos have to sound like one breath. The parts have to be woven together seamlessly. Sometimes, one piano enters in the middle of the other piano’s phrase.”

Although Huangci and Illick will enjoy three or four days of practicing together, Huangci felt that Illick should play the more rhythmically dominant first piano part since he is also conducting the orchestra.

“This is a jazzy, modern piece, not an impressionistic one,” said Huangci. “It was quite ahead of its time. There are hummable melodies that I think the audience will enjoy.”

Huangci, who was a guest of the Santa Fe Concert Association several years ago, is thrilled to be back in town for the New Year’s Eve concert. “I had such a good experience two years ago with Joe that I was delighted to accept his invitation to return,” she added.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Huangci began her international career at the age of 9. In 2003 she was accepted by the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and studied with Eleanor Sokoloff and Gary Graffman. While studying for four years at Curtis, she made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Wolfgang Sawallisch.

Huangci has been studying at the Musikhochschule Hannover since 2007 and earned her master’s degree in February. Among her awards are first prize at the 2009 International Chopin Competition in Darmstadt, Germany, and first and special prizes at the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Miami. Last summer her solo debut recording of works by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Sergei Prokofiev was released by Berlin Classics.

“I try to be as versatile in my playing as possible,” she explained. “Classical music is a narrow field. I want to play as many works in a convincing way as possible. The reason my first recording has pieces by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev is that I love Russian works. My next recording will have Mozart concerti.”

The New Year’s Eve program also features Johannes Brahm’s Symphony No. 2.

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