Putting Goya to music

As he sat in the audience in Carnegie Hall over a decade ago, Wei-Yi Yang GRD ’04 promised himself he would one day perform the masterpiece he heard that night — and now, he will finally fulfill that promise.

Yang, an internationally renowned pianist and a professor at the School of Music, will give the first performance of this year’s Horowitz Piano Series in Morse Recital Hall tonight, performing music by both Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. But the main piece in his repertoire will be Enrique Granados’s “Goyescas,” a piano suite based on the art of Spanish romantic artist Francisco Goya, whose work will be projected onto a screen during the performance. Yang said that the connection between the suite and its artistic inspiration has left a significant impact on how he chooses to interpret the work.

Yang has wanted to play “Goyescas” since he heard Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha perform the piece when he was still a teenager.

“It left an indelible impression on me,” Yang said, though he added that he has never before performed the entire suite, calling it “monstrously difficult.”

Yang said he studied Goya’s art in preparation for the performance, paying multiple visits to the Yale University Art Gallery’s collection of Goya’s etchings to make sure he showcases the similarities between the artist’s life and the progression of the piece. The final sections of the piano suite, Yang explained, need to parallel Goya’s mental degeneration, making it important for the pianist to explore the concepts of “insanity, death and hallucination” in his interpretation.

“The works moved to a darker plane as [Goya] was losing his mind,” Yang said, explaining that he needs to reflect this, since, “otherwise, the music will sound too sweet.”

Yang also described the characteristically “Spanish” nature of the piece as a key theme for performers to emphasize. Its rhythm, which at times mimics Spanish dance music, must be clear, he said, since Spanish dance music is “immediately recognizable in the rhythm.” Yang added that the harmonic patterns in the piece are “coloristically” important but should not overwhelm its focus on melody that is characteristic of folk songs.

The rest of Yang’s repertoire, which consists of “La serenade interrompue” by Claude Debussy and “Alborada del Gracioso” by Maurice Ravel — both French composers — complements the emphasis on Spain by providing alternate cultural lenses through which to view the overall performance, he said.

Boris Berman, artistic director of the piano series, said the opportunity to experience a piece of music alongside the material that inspired its composer is rare.

“When you’re playing this kind of music, it’s great to have a visual image to go with,” Olivia Pavco-Giaccia ’16, a cellist in the Yale Symphony Orchestra, said.

The Horowitz Piano Series was named in honor of 20th century pianist Vladimir Horowitz, whose archived works were donated to the School of Music after his death.

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