Praised for her ”bountiful gifts and passionate immersion into the music she touches” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer), Chinese pianist Fei-Fei Dong is a winner of the 2014 CAG Victor Elmaleh Competition and a top six finalist at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She continues to build a reputation for her poetic interpretations, charming audiences with her “passion, piquancy and tenderness” and “winning stage presence” (Dallas Morning News).
Artist Website: http://www.concertartists.org/artist/fei-fei-dong
24 Preludes, Op. 28 Chopin
Piano Sonata No. 18 in D Major, K. 576 W.A. Mozart
Réminiscences de Don Juan (S. 418) Franz Liszt
Program is subject to change
Fei-Fei Dong is a winner of the Concert Artists Guild International Competition
Like the “Impromptu” and “Fantasy”, the “Prelude” before Chopin had a specific link with the practice of improvisation, an essential ingredient of salons and benefit concerts of the early 19th century. Chopin used all three music forms, but rather in a different spirit. His 24 Preludes, just like his Impromptus and Fantasies, might almost have been devised to banish once and for all any remaining association with extemporaneous performances. These are works of substance and weight of a mature composer who is defiantly a composer, not a pianist-composer. These Preludes cannot be compared to those of Clementi, Hummel, Moscheles and other contemporaries, all of whom retained close links with the traditional functions of improvisatory prelude – testing the instrument, especially its tuning, usually in the key and mood of the piece to follow; in essence, preparing the audience for a performance.
The true, and helpful, context to the Preludes Op. 28 is actually Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier. Chopin took Bach’s score with him to Majorca in 1838-39 to put finishing touches on this collection. Like in Bach, Chopin’s pieces form a complete cycle of all major and minor keys, though Chopin’s approach is different in pairing pieces: tonally (C-major – A-minor) to Bach’s monotonality (C-major – C-minor).
Each prelude bears a very strong and individual character, some inevitably attracting titles during the 19th century – the “Raindrop” prelude No. 15 being the most famous among them. But Chopin’s imaginative genius gleams through every piece: the shifting chromatic harmonies of the elegy-like No. 4, the ornate pianistic patterns of No. 8, the serene No. 17 and the frenetic fury of the one that follows it, No. 18; and the concluding prelude No. 24 – soaring and plunging across the entire keyboard. There is a great variety of textures and moods, from the simplicity of No. 7 to bold, dramatic gestures in No. 22. Each prelude is itself a whole, with its own “Affekt” with a wide range of moods it encompasses: the No. 2 is a funeral march, the No. 7 is a mazurka, the No. 13 is nocturnally picturesque, and the No. 16 is plainly a study, an etude.
Chopin owed his highly personal contrapuntal technique to his close study of JS Bach, achieving a counterpoint as perfectly suited for the piano as Bach’s was for the harpsichord or organ. Throughout the Preludes deceptively simple textures often conceal a wealth of contrapuntal information, where fragments of melody or figuration constantly emerge from and recede into the overall musical fabric. The influence of Chopin’s Preludes on later composers, such as Scriabin, Faure, Rachmaninov, Debussy and Szymanowski, is unmistakable.
In 1789, Mozart returned to Vienna after an extensive tour of Northern Germany and Bohemia, where his private and public concert were many and, if not financially successful, have broadened his fame. He received a commission for six string quartets from the King of Prussia and a set of six “easy” piano sonatas from the King’s daughter. Of this commission, Mozart completed only three quartets and only one piano sonata in D major which was not published until some time after his death. It is hard to equate the request for “light” sonatas with the content of this D major composition, either in terms of technical difficulty or approachability.
The First movement is one of the most closely argued in all Mozart’s piano sonatas, showing a strong influence of Haydn in the way it is dominated by the opening theme. The movement has some dizzying imitations, one hand following no more than a quaver behind the other. The Second movement, Adagio, is beautifully eloquent and sumptuously expressive. The beginning of the Third movement, a rondo, appears for a moment to fit the “light” prescription. But the burst of bravura passagework that overcomes the music ensure that, though it might be easy for the listener, it is certainly not easy for the performer. Here again, as in the first movement, Mozart avoids strongly contrasting material and continuously refers back to the opening theme.
The D major sonata is fully worthy of the composer of the “Jupiter” symphony in its blend of contrapuntal complexity with seemingly effortless melodic charm. During his tour of Northern Germany, Mozart was able to explore in detail J.S. Bach’s contrapuntal works, particularly his two-part Inventions. This experience is strongly reflected in Mozart’s late works.
Before there was sound-reproducing technology there was Liszt. His performances and publications of transcriptions from the orchestral and operatic repertoire were more often than not the only way for the musically inquisitive to sample the latest trends in the musical arts. Liszt went about this dissemination in three general categories: (1) the transcription: a direct, literal transfer of a work, like transcribing all of Beethoven’s symphonies to the piano; (2) the paraphrase: recreating a particular episode from a larger work; and (3) the reminiscence: of which this piece is an example.
The word "reminiscence," so much less clinical than either "paraphrase" or "transcription," suggests something personal - something subjective. The Reminiscences of Don Juan (Mozart’s Don Giovanni) is far from a synopsis of the most popular of Mozart's operas during the 19th century. It is instead an interpretation, even a portrayal, of the title character as seen by Liszt. And the result is anything but a condemnation of Don Juan's licentious life. It is a celebration.
Liszt opens with a depiction of Don Juan's eventual confrontation with the flames of hell, sinister and eternal, but moves next to a recreation of Don Juan's song of seduction in his duet with the peasant girl Zerlina, "Là ci darem la mano." The duet is expanded and decorated in two variations before moving on to a rousing and climactic version of the famous "Champagne" aria - the lover's happy anticipation of an evening of romantic conquests. Even a brief flicker of hellfire at the end cannot dampen the high spirits of this ultimate virtuoso romp, and we know for certain where Liszt's sympathies lie.
Fei-Fei Dong, piano
Winner, 2014 Concert Artists Guild Competition
Finalist, 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
Praised for her “bountiful gifts and passionate immersion into the music she touches” (The Plain Dealer), Chinese pianist Fei-Fei Dong is a winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition and a top finalist at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She continues to build a reputation for her poetic interpretations, charming audiences with her “passion, piquancy and tenderness” and “winning stage presence” (Dallas Morning News).
Her burgeoning career includes a number of prominent concerto engagements in the 2016-17 season, including performances with the Anchorage Symphony, Spokane Symphony, DuPage Symphony (IL) and a special concert with the Pacific Symphony, featuring Fei-Fei playing both Beethoven Concerto No. 1 and No. 4 with conductor Carl St, Clair at Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo, CA. Featured recitals this season include the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center and the Howland Chamber Music Circle Piano Festival (both NY), Macon Concert Association (GA), and Atlantic Music Center (FL). This follows a busy summer 2016 schedule internationally, including recitals at Spain’s Auditorio Nacional de Madrid, and in Shenzhen, China and Nantucket, MA, as well as a concerto with Germany’s Norddeutsche Philharmonie Rostock and chamber music at the Music at Menlo Festival.
Fei-Fei’s 2015 summer festival highlights include Bravo! Vail Valley, the Highlands Chamber Music and Lake George Music Festivals, and a recital for Chicago’s Dame Myra Hess Concert Series. She was showcased prominently in the documentary film, Virtuosity, about the 2013 Cliburn Competition, which premiered on PBS in August 2015, and she has also been featured numerous times on New York’s WQXR radio.
Career concerto highlights in the US include the Fort Worth Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Aspen Music Festival Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Corpus Christi Symphony, Austin Symphony, Youngstown Symphony, Fort Collins Symphony, Denver Philharmonic, and the Juilliard Orchestra, and in China with the Shanxi and Shenzhen Symphony Orchestras. She has worked with such prominent conductors as Leonard Slatkin, Michael Stern, Jeffrey Kahane, Randall Craig Fleisher, and John Giordano.
Fei-Fei has performed in recital at Alice Tully Hall as the winner of Juilliard’s 33rd Annual William Petschek Recital Award. Other notable recent recitals in the US include her Weill Recital Hall debut at Carnegie Hall, Gilmore Rising Stars (Kalamazoo, MI) and The Cliburn’s spring 2015 Chopin Festival, and in Europe at Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall and the Louvre.
She is a member of the Aletheia Piano Trio, which debuted at the Kennedy Center in February 2014 as part of its Conservatory Project, and performs across the US. Deeply committed to sharing her joy for music and connecting with communities, Fei-Fei also engages students and community audiences through frequent school and outreach concerts and master classes.
Born in Shenzhen, China, Fei-Fei began piano lessons at the age of 5. She moved to New York to study at The Juilliard School, where she earned her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees under the guidance of Yoheved Kaplinsky.