Piano concert for Chile relief showcases promising talent

A rare opportunity arose for classical music enthusiasts last Sunday in the Brooks-Rogers recital hall: the chance to hear a solo piano recital of the great composers, from Bach to Debussy – but most notably Chopin. Jacqueline Ye Eun Shin, a first-year from Oberlin Conservatory, performed at a Chile earthquake relief benefit recital presented by Public Health Alliance and co-sponsored by Williams Christian Fellowship and International Club. Shin, who began playing seriously at age seven and has numerous accolades to her name, chose a number of intense and ambitious works for the program and performed each one with masterful technique.

After a brief introduction given by Daniel Kim ’09, Shin began with an impromptu and elaborate rendition of “Happy Birthday” for the 200 years passed since Chopin’s birth. Kim urged the (somewhat meager) audience to sing along; they sang hesitantly and with a hint of embarrassment, though most were smiling by the end.

The true concert began with Chopin’s “Etude No. 1 in C Major,” a rather showy but nonetheless impressive etude composed of rapid arpeggios flying up and down the entire length of the keyboard. Its pace demands striking notes individually in order to hear every one, yet the arpeggios want cohesiveness and continuity. Shin performed with incredible sense of both distinct clarity and seamless flow, qualities manifest in work after work throughout the performance. She continued with “Prelude & Fugue No. 3 in C-sharp Major,” composed by Bach. As before, her ability to strike notes with clarity and precision served well in her interpretation of a Baroque style. Shin’s moderate pace allowed her to demonstrate greater control over the piano’s range of tone while reinforcing the well-controlled movement inherent to all of Bach’s preludes and fugues.

Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 2: IV. Rondo” followed. “Rondo,” unlike the Chopin etude and Bach piano exercises, gave Shin a chance to display her power alongside her grace. Low, powerful chords dominated the rhythm as her fingers moved freely in the upper keys, changing swiftly from a smooth legato to light staccato. Her versatility was also discernible in the next piece, another Chopin. In “Preludes, Op. 28: Nos. 10-12,” Shin eased the audience in with her gentle expositions before exploiting her power much more forcefully than before; in the final number, she pounded out chords and then faded away, only to return with a series of crescendos creating a whirling, storm-like effect.

The fifth work, Debussy’s “L’isle Joyeuse,” was of a different nature still than any of the others. While one might comment on its similarity in terms of energy and pace, the playfulness of “L’isle Joyeuse” evolves from its experimentation with the whole tone scale. Shin’s fluidity in motion and tone enhanced the impressionistic qualities of the work, which shifted easily between whole tone into A major before resolving in A major during the triumphant march of the recapitulation.

Last on the program was Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 11: I. Allegro Maestoso.” Shin was accompanied by pianist Scott Smedinghoff ’09, who executed his part with surprising finesse, though his sound was severely hindered by the placement of his piano behind, rather than across from, the soloist. But from the immediate opening chords, Smedinghoff’s unassuming but evident skill complemented Shin well. Shin performed the exposition with quiet tension, letting the first themes – introduced by the accompaniment – build gently. After the haunting second theme was brought in as well, Shin showed no compunction in releasing the tension through a series of fierce crescendos. A similar pattern continued: graceful, mild, calming passages tempered with moments of forceful intensity. Despite the concerto’s sweeping grandeur, Shin approached the “Allegro Maestoso” with the duality of youth – an innocent yet brazen style.

Such an approach often resulted in the appearance of detachment, a common thread in every piece. This air of emotional removal suited a few pieces better than others, including Chopin’s “Etude” – which, though a brilliant work, remains an etude which the composer wrote to be played with a critical eye. Shin’s greatest apparent weakness was infusing passion, both visible and audible to the audience, into her interpretation. Her technical skill was incredible, as was her repertoire. However, until the audience is able to feel a tangible connection between her performance and themselves, her concerts will always leave them feeling a need for more. In time, no doubt, Shin will gain far greater experience than she has now and hopefully acquire a passion of her own.