Friday, October 2, 2009

12/08/2009 @ 6:15pm: Julian Toha, piano

Known for his passionate performances, poetic imagination, and technical command, American pianist Julian Toha has acquired a reputation as an exciting young artist of the 21st century.

Program Selections
  • FELIX MENDELSSOHN Fantasie in F# minor, Op. 28, “Scottish Sonata”: 1. Con moto agitato
  • J.S. BACH Prelude & Fugue No. 8 in D# Minor, BWV 877 (WTC, Book 2)
  • ALEXANDER SCRIABIN Fantaisie in B Minor, Op. 28
  • FRANZ SCHUBERT Sonata No. 14 in A Minor, D. 784
  • ALBERTO GINASTERA Suite de Danzas Criollas, Op. 15

    As a soloist and chamber musician Julian Toha ( has inspired audiences throughout the United States and abroad with his highly emotional and original interpretations. An engaging pianist who plays from the heart, his memorable concerts have received wide acclaim. When asked about his goal as an artist, Toha answered, "I just want the audience to fall in love."

    In January 2009, Toha was invited to perform Samuel Barber's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 38, with the Ars Flores Symphony Orchestra after winning first place in their 7th Annual Young Artist Concerto Competition. In February, he performed the same work with the Florida State University Philharmonia after winning the 2008 Young Artist Competition at the Florida State University College of Music. That same month he placed second and received the Max Kaplan Award in the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition. In March 2009, Toha entered the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra Instrumental Competition and was the only pianist selected to advance to the final round. In April, Toha was nominated and named the 2009 Presser Scholar. The foundation grants awards to musicians who show strong evidence of an emerging career, and this national honor comes with a title and scholarship. In May, Toha entered as one of the youngest competitors in the International Beethoven Piano Sonata Competition and advanced to the semifinal round.

    Following these successes Toha toured Europe in the summer, playing solo concerts in Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. Now Mr. Toha has embarked on a 2009-2010 domestic tour of over 30 cities in 10 states, with performances ranging from live in-studio radio broadcasts and artist series to concerts in museums and churches. Throughout the tour he will focus his efforts on stretching the imaginations of listeners. "Pretend to be a kid again; dream. Free your mind and listen with your heart." This is Julian's advice for audience members to enhance their musical experience.

    A recipient of several scholarships including from the Morning Musicale of Fort Lauderdale and the College of Music at Florida State University, Toha is finishing his bachelor's degree in Piano Performance, studying principally under Leonard Mastrogiacomo. Apart from music, Julian loves photography, exercising, poetry, cooking, and the visual arts.

    February 3rd of this year marked the bicentennial of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor whose prodigious musical talents rivaled those of Mozart, and who, like Mozart, did not live to see his 40th birthday. Although the final manuscript of this Fantasie in F# minor was not published until 1834, the composer’s letters suggest that the work originated in 1828, around the same time that he wrote his “Scottish” Symphony and the Hebrides Overture. At the time of publication Mendelssohn himself suppressed his original title, Sonate ecossaise, but it nonetheless shares musical characteristics with his other Gaelic inspirations, so the nickname has sneaked its way back into use. Considered one of Mendelssohn’s finest works for the virtuoso pianist, its title and formal design suggest that it is perhaps patterned after Beethoven’s Sonata quasi una fantasia (“Moonlight Sonata”), with three movements each faster than the previous, even though Mendelssohn’s thematic material is nothing like Beethoven’s.

    Although he was dismissed by many of his contemporaries as being too old-fashioned, the great German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) ranks with Beethoven (who himself studied Bach’s music) as among the most influential composers of all time. The most-studied contrapuntal works ever written are contained within Bach’s two books that comprise his monumental Das wohltemperierte Clavier (The Well-tempered Clavier). Each book contains 24 pairs of Preludes and Fugues that traverse all the major and minor keys. Prelude and Fugue No. 8 from the 2nd book has been published both in D# minor and in its enharmonic equivalent, E-flat minor—giving the pianist a choice between either of two nearly impossible key signatures!

    In addition to numerous symphonies, chamber works, masses, and solo piano music, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed over 600 songs in his short life, and has remained unsurpassed in his ability to marry poetry with music. Although his music was regularly performed in private concerts for Vienna’s musical elite and his genius was touted by no less than Beethoven, Schubert was never able to secure a publisher for the bulk of his masterworks so he depended on his devoted circle of friends for maintaining his finances. Schubert wrote this Piano Sonata in A minor in 1823. That same year he learned that he was suffering from syphilis, then an incurable disease, so the bleak fury that pervades some of the writing is not altogether surprising. Even so, he continued to compose works of genius that showcased his increasing originality, and after his death (probably from medicinal mercury poisoning) Schubert’s wish to be buried next to Beethoven was honored.

    Russian pianist, composer and mystic Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) was a classmate of Rachmaninoff at the Moscow Conservatory. But unlike his famous friend who retained the stylistic traits of Russian Romanticism throughout his career, Scriabin developed a unique musical language that progressed beyond early lyrical musings directly inspired by Chopin and Liszt into a tonally nebulous sound-world that has lead some to call him the “progenitor of Serialism.” Scriabin’s Fantaisie, Op. 28, dating from 1900, is representative of his “middle period” in which he moves beyond his early models, retaining an opulent lyricism but within an ever-shifting chromatic harmonic framework, yet still with a sense of underlying tonality. Technically demanding, it remains a favorite of pianists, but apparently Scriabin himself didn’t find it too memorable, literally. The story goes that he once overheard a friend playing an interesting piece and asked what it was. The friend answered that it was Scriabin’s own Fantaisie, to which the composer responded with a perplexed, “What Fantaisie?”

    Regarded as one of the most important composers from South America, Argentina’s Alberto Ginastera (1910-1981) was the son of immigrants from Catalonia (his father) and Italy (his mother), and the composer retained the Catalan pronunciation of the family name (i.e., with the “G” pronounced like an English “j,” as in “genius”). Ginastera himself grouped his music into three stylistic periods: “Objective Nationalism” (1934-48), “Subjective Nationalism” (1948-58), and “Neo-expressionism” (1958-81). But even in his later works which use serialism and other avant-garde techniques he retained the driving rhythms inspired by the folk music of his homeland. Suite de Danzas Criollas, Op. 15 (“Suite of Creole Dances,” 1946), dating from his first stylistic period, straightforwardly adapts Argentine folk tunes. Interestingly, progressive rocker Keith Emerson performed music from the suite during Emerson, Lake and Palmer rock concerts.
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