For the second time this year, Bion Tsang appears on America’s Music Festivals, the nationally syndicated radio series that brings live concert performances and audio features to the airwaves from music festivals throughout North America. Back on January 1, 2012, Bion was heard in Boccherini’s Cello Sonata in A major performed at Music in the Vineyards (Napa, CA) with pianist Jeffrey Sykes. Tonight, Bion can be heard in Saint-Saens’ Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor performed at the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival (Cape Cod, MA) with violinist Stephanie Chase and pianist Spencer Myer. For station listings of America’s Music Festivals, visit americasmusicfestivals.org.
The cellist swashed and buckled his way through Dvorák like a great actor playing Cyrano
April 6, 2012
The cello has been typecast as the sad sack of the symphony. When composers need a mourner, that’s typically who they call, leaving many people with the impression that moaning wistfully is all the cello can do. Antonín Dvorák was one composer who saw the instrument as capable of so much more and created a virtuoso showcase for it that makes you rethink all you know about the cello, and in tackling his Cello Concerto in B Minor with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Bion Tsang swashed and buckled his way through the work like a great actor playing Cyrano de Bergerac. Maybe it was the way in which Tsang wielded his bow that first put me in mind of Edmond Rostand’s peerless swordsman – thrusting swiftly and with unerring precision into the heart of each note – but the comparison felt apt through the concerto’s finale. In it, the cello has all of Cyrano’s brio and valor and pluck, dashing headlong into melodic themes and executing them with a breathless panache. In a work with seeming martial aspirations – the opening sounds like it’s dropping you in the middle of a battle – the cello is its soldier-hero, taking on all comers. But like Rostand’s, this is also a highly romantic figure with a strong melancholy streak. Repeatedly, the cello succumbs to rueful reverie – slow, exquisitely lovely passages in which it oozes regret. Because Tsang attacked the “action sequences” with such verve and relish, it brought even richer contrast to these moments of sorrowful reflection, which ached with the loss of a dozen loves. On the podium, conductor Peter Bay devoted much of his efforts to reining in the orchestra, keeping them soft enough for Tsang’s every rich note to be clearly heard. And they were heard, and deeply appreciated, too, so much so that the audience leapt to its feet in an instant for the guest soloist. It led to a quick encore of Dvorák “Humoresque No. 7″ – you may know it as the tune to “Passengers will please refrain from flushing toilets on the train” – during which Tsang proved himself as adroit at comedy as romance and action. His jaunty, sly performance left the crowd grinning and no doubt hoping that his first appearance with the ASO will be followed by another sooner rather than later.
By Robert Faires
April 2, 2012
Friday’s Austin Symphony Orchestra concert wasted no time, starting the night with solo cellist Bion Tsang and Dvorak’s “Cello Concerto in B Minor.”
For Tsang, an [associate] professor of cello at the Univesity of Texas, this was his debut with the hometown symphony and conductor Peter Bay. And Tsang certainly made an impression.
The ASO sounded gorgeous right out of the gates, clear, confident notes from the woodwinds and brass. Their exposition could have gone on, uninterrupted.
So it was remarkable how the character of the music changed when the cello started in.
If some cellists play across strings like silk, Bion Tsang plays with “crunch.” There is a meatiness to his playing as he pulls through Dvorak’s double stops and big ringing chords.
It’s no less beautiful — Tsang is nimble in the delicate upper register — it just adds a kind of stylized weight to his playing.
At times Tsang’s interpretation seemed a little tricky for the orchestra’s soloists to align with. Tsang held on for a perilously long time to the central melody’s climactic half note, nearly undermining its power. But Tsang never went too far. Rather, it felt like a modern reading of a well-tread piece, one that kept the crowd on the edge of its seat.
The Concerto’s second movement is one of the most arresting pieces of music ever written for the cello. Its climax is so devastating you almost don’t want the third movement to come.
It was a credit to Bay and the symphony that they managed to keep up the piece’s energy right to the last notes.
It was Tsang’s night. Given the choice, most of us would rather see a performance like Tsang’s — one that refuses to play it safe. This tactic can be messy, but it can also feel dangerously alive.
By Luke Quinton