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Joyce Yang on returning to Melbourne and performing Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto

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Meet Joyce Yang, phenomenal pianist, museum buff, budding art collector and shoe shopaholic.

We asked Joyce some questions ahead of her return to Melbourne this June to perform Rachmaninov’s dark and brooding Piano Concerto No.2 with the MSO.

What are you looking forward to most about coming to Melbourne?

First and foremost, the music making! I had a wonderful time making music with the amazing musicians of the MSO and Diego Matheuz playing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on the Theme by Paganini last time around [in 2014]. Each performance was so spontaneous, so free…

I really look forward to coming back and playing one of my favorite concerti, the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2. It is a piece I have performed many times over the years but I have a feeling this familiar piece will gain a whole new life in Melbourne.

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Joyce Yang

What does Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 mean to you?

Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto is the type of piece where the orchestra and the soloist need to become one entity. We have to breathe together in order to deliver the heart of this music. In a way, it is much more difficult than other Rachmaninov concerti because neither force (soloist or the orchestra) can lead. We need to interweave into each other’s texture in order become one coherent voice.

The members of the MSO have a fine sense of how to play together, or more importantly, how to spontaneously play together, and embrace the small changes that occur in live performances. Everything feels really alive and urgent.

Tell us about the piece?

After receiving severe criticism following the premier of his first symphony, Rachmaninov fell into a deep depression. The second piano concerto was written several years after that and was dedicated to the doctor who helped him. Despite the difficult times Rachmaninov experienced, he managed to create a concerto full of beauty, nostalgia, and exuberance.

The work begins with an awakening. Rachmaninov emerges from his artistic drought and immediately, we are presented with a melody, a deluge of emotion rich with all shades of human experience. Throughout the piece, the moments of beauty and small triumphs are interrupted by thoughts of frustration and doubt. By the third movement, however, it is clear that hope will prevail over despair – if this piece were a love story, our protagonist would win the heart of the one he loves.

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How has Rachmaninov inspired you?

The music of Rachmaninov has been one of the most significant pillars of my career. I have spent the last decade performing all of his concerti and many of his solo compositions. I have dedicated a lot of time learning this music because I believe it has the power to stir and awaken deep emotions that one might not have immediate access to in everyday life.

Fun Facts about Joyce
  • Joyce travels with Vegemite
  • At the age of 19, Joyce became the youngest medallist in the history of the Van Cliburn Competition
  • Joyce is a Steinway artist
  • Joyce has synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which one type of sense stimulation evokes the sensation of another. When Joyce hears music, she sees it in shapes and colours
  • After receiving a piano for her birthday, Joyce received her first piano lesson at the age of 4
  • As a child, Joyce was a member of a speed-skating team in Korea
  • Joyce is a budding art collector with an interest in Baroque, German Expressionist and abstract art
  • Joyce’s hobbies include skiing, reading and writing poetry, shopping for shoes and visiting museums

Joyce Yang will perform Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 on 3, 4 and 6 June at Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall, during Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.