Cameron University’s Hyunsoon Whang launches performance cycle featuring Beethoven’s piano sonatas

Cameron University’s Hyunsoon Whang, Professor of Music and McMahon Endowed Chair in Music, will present “Beethoven Sonata Cycle I,” the first in a series of semi-annual piano recitals where she will ultimately perform a complete cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas. The first recital will take place on Thursday, September 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the University Theatre. Tickets are $10 for adults, and $8 for senior citizens, K-12 students and members of the military. Cameron students, faculty and staff are admitted at no charge with valid ID.

Hyunsoon WhangWhang has long professed a love for performing the music of Beethoven. “Franz Liszt once said that ‘Beethoven’s name is sacred in art,” she explains. “Beethoven was not just a genius but also a revolutionary. Once there was Beethoven, music was never the same. He completely changed the way composers wrote music, the way performers learned and played music, and the way we listen to music. Classical music no longer served as entertainment but became serious art that demanded every bit of attention and focus from performers and audiences alike. His presence looms heavy on all of us musicians.” 

 The prolific composer created 32 sonatas between 1795 and 1822, in addition to an enormous canon of work. Together, the sonatas are considered one of the most important collections of works in the history of music and have come to be seen as the first cycle of major piano pieces suited to concert hall performance, according to the late Charles Rosen, internationally known pianist and music author and scholar

“I plan to present the entire cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas in a series of recitals over the next five or so years,” says Whang. “Beethoven's music has always been a huge part of my life. To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with Beethoven. His presence is overwhelming, and his demands are unrealistic at times, yet I have the utmost respect and reverence for his art and tenacity. There was at least a decade or so I did not play Beethoven in public, but for the past several years, I have been dabbling at his piano sonatas again. Like many pianists, it has always been in the back of my mind to do all 32 sonatas at some point. But how do you get the courage to start? Last spring, I heard an incredible performance of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony performed by the Cleveland Orchestra with Blomstedt conducting which was levitating. Also around the same time, an attorney friend of mine gave me a complete set of 32 sonata CDs by Andras Schiff. All the signs were there that it was time for me to start the Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle”   

She spent the month of May reading, researching and playing through the 32 sonatas, trying to decide whether to do them in chronological order or not.

“I have decided for the audience's sake and my sanity, I should mix them up,” Whang says.

 She will open this recital with Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2 No. 1, composed in 1795. Dedicated to Joseph Haydn, the sonata has four movements: Allegro, Adagio, Menuetto Allegros and Prestissimo.

“This is a typical early work of Beethoven where he is restless, rough and trying to prove himself - which he does successfully,” Whang says of the composition.

Whang will then present Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 14 No. 2, another early-period work which was written in 1789/99. Although not as well-known as some of Beethoven’s other sonatas, this “exquisite little work” (as cited by musicologist Donald Francis Tovey) consists of three movements: Allegro, Andante and Scherzo Allegro assai. Whang says that Sonata No. 10 is an unusually intimate work for Beethoven, almost Schubertian or Mozartian.

Following a brief intermission, Whang will conclude the performance with Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57. Colloquially known as the “Appassionata,” this composition is among the three famous piano sonatas of Beethoven’s middle period and dates to 1805.

The ‘Appassionata,’ one of the most popular and fiery works ever, is definitely Beethoven at his best from the middle period,” Whang says. “The entire sonata is perfectly constructed (Beethoven was the greatest architect of music) and reads like an epic novel.”

Consisting of three movements - Allegro assai, Adante con moto and Allegro ma non troppo – Presto, the “Appassionata” is regarded as one of Beethoven’s most technically challenging sonatas. The composter himself considered it to be his most tempestuous piano sonata until he wrote “Hammerklavier” (the 29th sonata) some 13 years later.

Whang began her piano studies at the age of 4 and started playing public concerts at age 12. Since then, she has delighted audiences in hundreds of concerts across America, Europe and Asia. Her last season’s performances included concerts in Germany, Florida, Ohio, Las Vegas as well as many parts of Oklahoma. Critics have praised her as "the kind of player who appears to immerse her entire being in the music," and as one who has "always delivered with grace and beauty."

Whang has appeared as a soloist with distinguished conductors such as Leonard Slatkin, Nicholas Harsanyi, Joel Revzen, Miriam Burns, and Jon Kalbfleisch. A sought-after chamber musician, she frequently collaborates with the members of premiere orchestras and string quartets. She recently recorded a solo album, “Chopin Nocturnes,” and a chamber music album, “Mozart, Schubert and Brahms.”  A recipient of Oklahoma Governor’s Arts and Education Award, Whang serves on the Artist Roster of the Oklahoma Arts Council and Mid-America Arts Alliance.

Whang attended Seoul High School of Music and Arts, North Carolina School of the Arts, the St. Louis Conservatory of Music, The Juilliard School, and Indiana University, where she earned a doctorate.

In 1993, she joined the Cameron University faculty, where she is the McMahon Endowed Chair in Music as well as a professor of music. She teaches Music Appreciation, Accompanying, and Piano.

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September 9, 2019