The pianist Miao Hou has won an impressive number of international competitions, and recently made her Carnegie Hall debut playing with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leon Fleischer.
Last Saturday evening she brought her considerable talent to the Levitas Center for the Arts in Southampton, as soloist in the “Rising Stars” piano recital series. Ms. Hou, like all the young artists who have been heard in these concerts as well as at Pianofest, has finely-honed technical skills and command of an extensive repertoire. The addition of a warm, outgoing personality and musical expressiveness makes a winning combination.
She certainly captured the audience’s attention and admiration at Saturday’s recital.
Ms. Hou opened with two sonatas by the prolific 18th century composer Domenico Scarlatti, performing the Sonata in F minor K525 and the Sonata in D minor K141 with elegance and clarity.
Leaping into the 20th century, she continued with three “Danzas Argentinas” composed in 1937 by Alberto Ginastera, a native son of that country. Echoes of folk music sound in these dances, each of which describes a character. “Danza del Viejo Boyero,” an old mariner; “Danza de la Moza Donosa,” a beautiful maiden; and “Danza del Gaucho Matrero,” an arrogant cowboy.
Ms. Hou painted lively tone portraits of all three, evoking first dreamlike reminiscence, then a lyrical poem to the lovely girl. The swaggering gaucho came to life in rapid, intricate chords as he gallops across the pampas, and in devil-may-care glissandos as he (perhaps) quenches his thirst in a local cantina. In this piece especially, Ms. Hou’s sense of humor shone through, bringing chuckles from some listeners.
During a brief pause in lieu of intermission, Liliane Questel, the director of the “Rising Stars” series, took the stage in order to thank the evening’s sponsor, James B. Jeffrey of East Hampton, and to acknowledge a special donation by Roger Samet of Southampton. She also announced the final concert before the summer break, a recital by Di Wu to be given on June 14.
For the second half of the program, Ms. Hou performed Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, Opus 9. This formidable work has 20 separate sections, plus a prelude, or “Préambule.” It demands a superb memory coupled with superior physical energy and stamina.
Carnaval is a costume-party that features stock characters from Italian commedia del arte mingling with the composer’s friends, lovers and alter egos. There are also historical personages—Chopin and Paganini—all kinds of waltzes and promenades, and even “dancing letters.” The task of the performer is to make each movement distinct and individual, without losing the unity of the piece.
Ms. Hou met the challenge with energy and—and just as important—intelligence. Her playing was by turns lyrical, whimsical, showy, sprightly, and noble, all as required by the different personalities created by the composer. Her involvement with the music showed in her expressive features, as she evoked the party guests’ antics.
Here a Pierrot lurches about as a more melancholy Arlequin sulks and a Coquette flirts. Eusebius and Florestan, the two opposite sides of Schumann’s persona, engage in their perennial dispute. Clara, Schumann’s beloved wife, enters as Chiarina; an ex-girlfriend, Estrella, has something to say. Ms. Hou gave a wonderful musical party. It would have been no surprise at all if she had kicked up her silver-sequined high heels and joined the dance.
As an encore, she chose an abridgement she has made of Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse.” The original, as Ms. Questel pointed out, would be too long. But as the audience called the pianist back for extra bows, it seemed they would have loved to listen to the entire piece.