APA Premiere Series features Claire Huangci 

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click to enlarge Pianist Claire Huangci with ICO - JOHN BEHRINGER
  • Pianist Claire Huangci with ICO
  • John Behringer

Since 2009, the American Pianists Association has made a few changes in its Classical Awards series. It has now become quadrennial rather than every three years, with the Jazz Awards split halfway between. And starting next April during awards week it will grant its award to only one Fellow--not two as has been the practice for well over a decade. As the organization has not made a "big deal" about the latter change, you're likely to be reading it here first.

That means that, like our violin competition, we'll have one "winner," but unlike that competition, none of the other finalists will be ranked -- the same practice when two Fellows were chosen. In 2009, there was, in my view, only one true winner, Grace Fong, the finest pianist granted APA Fellow status since the organization, then called the Beethoven Foundation, moved here from New York City in 1982.

Sunday afternoon, The Indiana History Center's Basile Theater hosted 22-year-old Claire Huangci, a native of Rochester, N.Y. (All entrants to these awards must be American born -- hence its name.) She played a widely varied program, from Bach, through Schubert, Chopin and Ravel to Tchaikovsky. And like so many of the rising generation of top-tier pianists, Huangci has technique to burn.

No technical challenge any of these pieces offered proved a barrier to Huangci's assault. Her arms, hands and fingers moved over the keyboard with the grace of a ballerina, as she offered every variety of pianistic perorations in the most delicate of shades. Though her fingers, on their own, were surely capable of the softest of legatos, she tended to overpedal, which muddied some of her textures. This was especially uncalled for in the Bach Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911, the second of seven he wrote for the harpsichord, wherein notes cannot be sustained. Whereas in Ravel's short, three-movement Sonatine, pedaling is less obtrusive and is surely called for in the score.

As in previous APA Premiere Series, Kirk Trevor and his Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra came on stage in the second half. They provided an overture and joined with Huangci for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37. The overture -- strictly a light-veined curtain raiser -- was to Domenico Cimarosa's opera The Secret Marriage (1792). Huangci's account of the concerto was a mix of expressive dynamic shading and a first-movement cadenza too rushed with, again, too much pedal (i.e. the damper pedal on the far right; she made good use of the "soft" pedal with her left foot throughout the concert).

Claire Huangci is a soaring young talent. With a bit more maturity, she could become a towering figure in the pianistic pantheon. Sept. 30 at the Indiana History Center

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