‘Kate Liu at the National Arts Club’, New York, by Olivier Berggruen
by Venetia Kapernekas
Kate Liu. Recital presented by the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation at the National Arts Club, New York, 10 March 2020
Olivier Berggruen was the curator of a retrospective of Pablo Picasso & the Ballets Russes at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome in 2017
Kate Liu (right) and Olivier Berggruen (left ), after the recital, National Arts Club, March 10, 2020 photo @venetiakapernekas
“Music is the space between the notes,” according to Claude Debussy, though the remark is sometimes attributed to Mozart. That space is often described as silence, but can also be likened to the breath—the movement and oscillation between notes, beats, and measures, to the extent that a piece of music seems to develop in space as much as it does in time. Space in music can be visualized in various ways; a slow piece projects the feeling of empty space; a fast one has greater density; the divided moment between two notes, two beats, is akin to the moment of suspension in breathing, between inhale and exhale. To make this palpable, for an interpreter, requires a sense of tone, articulation, and timing, of which the piano becomes the seismograph.
In a recital at the National Arts Club presented under the auspices of the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation, Kate Liu demonstrated that she has that rare talent to expand our sense of consciousness; notes do not just follow each other, but create space in time. Born in Singapore and educated in the United States, Kate won numerous competitions before becoming the bronze medallist of the Fryderyk Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015. Since then, she has been studying with Veda Kaplinsky and Robert McDonald at Juilliard.
Liu’s interpretation of Schumann’s charming Arabeske unfolded in an unhurried fashion, dreamy and intimate, yet infused with those flights of fancy which seem to arise in spontaneous, unpredictable bursts; Schubert’s Moments Musicaux D.780 were a study in equilibrium, alternating between tenderness and lyricism, and the pianist’s beautiful singing tone brought out the music’s clear, transparent structures.
Kate Liu ended her recital with Brahms’s monumental 3rd sonata in F-minor. Written in five movements, it can be seen as the young composer’s homage to Beethoven, in its incorporation of fragments from the 5th Symphony, but equally in its orchestral approach to writing for the piano. One can think perhaps of more powerful renditions (such as Julius Katchen’s famous recording), but here Brahms’s blend of youthful Romanticism and classical form was given a just expression, oscillating between gravity and grace, lightness and depth. There was a sense of time, reflecting the carefully structural development devised for such a vast composition; between the various changes in key reflective of the Romantic aesthetic of fragments in the wake of Schumann’s works for the piano. The Rückblick (4th movement) in particular, was infused with moments of such beauty; reminding this listener of Dorota Szwarzcman’s remark in connection with Kate’s playing at the time of the Chopin competition in 2015: “every sound speaks to the audience, each one has its own justification.”
If the Brahms sonata was surely a great achievement, the impression that lingers in my mind is one of continuous experience; the audience seemed completely absorbed in the performance, because of the ability of this young performer to create a world in which she draws us in, as if by magic. Musicianship, for sure, but also the ability to make the instrument reflect a community of spirit between composer and listener. Instead of being confronted with a mere proposition (the musical score) about the world, the listener may reach a movement of abolition of the self, a mechanism of identification with, and absorption into, the world of sound.