Shortly after I won Cliburn Amateur in 2016, I received an invitation from Elena Leonova, the director of the New York Piano Society. She invited me to be a guest artist for their Carnegie Hall Gala night. The offer was amazing, but it was also the time that I just became a new father, so I had to sadly decline the invitation (I wonder how many people have turned down a chance to play at Carnegie Hall?). Two years later, I decided to reach out to Elena to see if she would still have me play for them. Fortunately, she said yes. I decided to join two of their 2019 concerts, the first one being Steinway Hall.
I traveled with my family from Calgary to New York. I was very proud of my son for being the best toddler on a five-hour flight. It was my wife’s first time in NYC so we grabbed a New York slice of pizza and headed straight to Times Square. We stumbled upon 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where they film the Jimmy Fallon show. My wife teased me, calling me the Asian Jimmy Fallon, and had me pose for a picture. The next day, I was actually temporarily mistaken for Jimmy Fallon by a guy who worked at a bakery, haha. I wasn’t sure what was funnier - the mistaken identity, or the fact that my wife had just mentioned it tonight before.
While in New York, I needed a place to practice, so I headed twice to 244 Rehearsals Studios. The pianos were not the best, but they were not the worst. I actually quite liked this place and will be back if I need to practice again.
As mentioned, the concert took place at Steinway Hall. The performers had a few minutes to try the piano shortly before showtime. To my surprise, the piano was below my expectations. I would have expected that Steinway would showcase one of their better concert grands for their hall, but it was not the case. Perhaps it was because they host many concerts there all year long, so this piano has suffered because of it. Nonetheless, it was still surprising, but there was not much I could do. Part of the challenge of being a pianist is learning how to make friends with your piano and your hall. In this case, I knew I needed to be much lighter in my touch, while controlling louder volumes so as they would not sound harsh. I actually enjoy such challenges because it forces you to be an adaptable pianist. You end up never playing the same piece in the same way.
When it came time for performance, those changes made the piano much better, and I had a lot of fun playing that night. The hall was small, but filled with a full and enthusiastic audience (standing room only). I played Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante (Chopin) followed by Volodos’s version of Rondo all Turca (Mozart). The crowd showed their New York appreciation with a loud applause. I enjoyed the other pianists’ performances and look forward to hearing them again.
BUT...the highlight of the trip was actually not the performance. When we returned to our hotel room, there was a problem with the thermostat, and the hotel techs could not fix the problem, so they had to move us to another room. The only room left was one of the hotels four penthouse suites. These are suites are usually saved for Hollywood stars (the show Gossip Girl was filmed here), and our particular suite normally went for $15,000 a night. We got it for free! Three floors, 5000 square feet, 5 bathrooms, and an elevator. What an epic ending it was to an incredible trip. Thank you, Elena, and the NYPS for the invitation to play. I cannot wait for the next time in March...a return to Carnegie Hall…
Anyone who dares to play Beethoven's last Piano Sonata Opus 111 must be fearless and confident in his skills. In the case of Thomas Yu, both are true...[He] plays the piece with elegance and depth...and his interpretation was the highlight of the festival day.Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's largest newspaper, translated.