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Concert review: With world-class virtuosity, Yunchan Lim wows a sold-out Keyboard Concerts audience

After you’ve heard scores of world-class pianists perform in person – an easy thing to do in Fresno thanks to Keyboard Concerts – you begin to realize the level of musicality on display. As these soloists perform vastly complicated pieces with hundreds of thousands of notes, most of the time from memory, they seem somehow more than mere 10-fingered mortals. It’s as if they are touched by the gods, or, at the least, connected by a psychic ethernet cable to some greater artistic hard drive.

Pictured above: Yunchan Lim won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Photo: Van Cliburn competition

I certainly felt this way when listening to the South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim perform Oct. 14 at the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts series. The sold-out audience thrilled to Lim’s technical and emotional prowess. Many times I had to remind myself I was watching an 18-year-old – someone younger than the sports jackets hanging in the closets of many of his peers – coaxing sounds out of his instrument that felt wise beyond his years.

Some notes and reflections:

The thoughtfulness: Lim set a pensive ambiance at the beginning of the concert, taking a long, dramatic pause before his first piece, the Brahms Four Ballades, Op. 10. His demeanor was soft and dreamy. It’s as if he was willing the audience to enter into the same introspective state that he already inhabits.

The Mendelssohn: Lim tackled the Fantasy in F-sharp minor, Op. 28, with a subtle power that reminded me of a perfectly purring high-performance sports car. His swirled runs felt effortless. I though of words like fragile, graceful and delicate. A highlight: those impossible ripples of notes that grew from nothing to more than something, exploding upon us like a bird of prey suddenly swooping from a tree. It was my favorite piece of the evening.

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The Liszt: “Deux legendes” is absolute smoothness. It’s stunning. With “Fantasia quasi Sonata,” Lim frolics and booms.

The in-person impact: Lim is tremendously serious on stage, and as he settled onto the piano bench, a look of supreme concentration – and almost hypnotic blankness – came across his face. His bangs, flopping just out of his eyes, added to the effect. At times he tilted his head back as he played as if craving the warmth of the sun, his fingers flying as the stage lights bathed him with an almost ethereal glow. I’m not one to overplay the spiritual card when writing about musical performances, but there was something that felt sort of gift-from-the-heavens inspired about the experience. It’s like he was there but also transported to another place that the rest of us could only guess at – and listen to. Overall, what a memorable concert and what a coup for Keyboard Concerts.

The audience: Diego Vargas in the Collegian offers a fine overview of the concert, including details on people who traveled from distant locales to see the South Korean superstar.


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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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