LA Philharmonic and the LA Master Chorus at the Walt Disney Concert Hall
White Light Festival: Song of the Earth

Pianist Jenny Q Chai at (le) Poisson Rouge

by Craig Brinker


The hurricane affected everyone in the New York/New Jersey area to some degree, and pianist Jenny Q Chai also felt the repercussions of the “superstorm.”  After coming back from intermission, Chai said that this was the first time she had slept on couches for two consecutive nights in order to give a recital. The 25 or so people in attendance at (le) Poisson Rouge on Sunday evening were glad she was willing to do so: Her intensity and control throughout a program full of technically challenging repertoire was impressive. Chai has the enviable ability able push past the sometimes overwhelming amount of notes on the page to give the audience a comprehensive musical narrative.

Beginning the program was a rather cold and austere interpretation of Satie's Three Gymnopédies, followed by a performance of Schoenberg's Drie Klavierstuck that was both mesmerizing and powerful. Chai played the piece in exactly the manner it was intended, with emphatic gestures and some lovely usage of rubato. She also gave a scorching rendition of French composer André Bouchorechliev's Orion III–full of fire, but never lacking in subtlety.

The rest of the program was technically precise and well-rounded. Chai was willing to sing, tap on the piano, and reach inside the instrument to provide any of the more eccentric colors required by the thornier compositions on the program. The ever-versatile performer selected two vocal works to perform, John Cage's The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs and, as an encore, Victoria Jordanova's Prayer. Her reedy voice entered into fervent recitation during Wonderful Widow, highlighting the eeriness of text. 

The last two pieces on the program were two Barcarolles, one by American composer Nils Vigeland, the other more familiar of the two, by Chopin. Chai joked that when she decided to program these two pieces she didn't think that boating through lower Manhattan would be a distinct possibility. Her delicate touch served her well for the Vigeland work, although there was a slight rhythmic misstep in the middle of the piece. The Chopin sounded simple and elegant after all the complex and often harsh music from earlier in the program. If it was easier on the listener's ears, it was certainly easier on her fingers, too; she played it confidently and with great rhythmic control.

Both an intellectually and viscerally fulfilling performance, Chai made a good case for the continued importance of the avant-garde in 20th- and 21st-century music. Wishing the audience goodnight with a second encore, “Child Falling Asleep” from Schumann's Kinderszenen, audience members left the venue with a simple, yet strange, lullaby ringing in their ears.