If you visit “You Tube” online and enter pianist Misha Galant’s name in the search box, you will find many examples of his solo piano performances. You will also discover that these are live performances from some of the recent competitions he has entered and reveal him not to be just an 18-year-old gifted student, but a supremely confident and gifted young artist who plays like a professional and master of his craft.
The Young Artist Guild (YAG) is a group of the most gifted musicians in the Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) Certificate of Merit program. Acceptance to YAG is one of the highest honors MTAC can bestow on young students in California. An accepted student is granted membership in the Guild for five years upon recommendation by a panel of evaluators. During this five-year tenure, the student member may be offered semi-professional paid performance opportunities throughout California.
We heard one of these “semi-professional paid performance opportunities” yesterday afternoon, as Galant performed for a large audience at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in downtown Santa Cruz. This recital, sponsored by the Santa Cruz Branch of MTAC, was on a high level of artistry that ranged from stylistic performances of a Prelude & Fugue by Bach, the Haydn C Major Piano Sonata, Hob. XVI/50, Chopin’s Etude in F Major from Opus 10, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in B Minor from Opus 31, two selections by Liszt (the Transcendental Etude in F Minor and the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2) and ended up with a knockout performance of William Bolcom’s “Serpent Kiss.”
One of the most impressive aspects of this recital was the wide variety of sound, touch and expression Galant achieved in each work he played. His Bach and Haydn playing was expressive and natural, while achieving a high level of stylistic integrity. His performances of Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt showed him to be a sensitive musician of a very high order, and he really blew us away with his performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. This is a piece that had its vogue in the last century, partially fuelled by the classic “Bugs Bunny” cartoon (which, if you haven’t seen it, you must). Since this work was over played in the 1940s, it tended to disappear from concert programs. Not only is it nice to have it back, but Galant gave us an opportunity to hear the work with Rachmaninoff’s original cadenza. It is pleasing to report that Galant did not trash the piece to show off his virtuosity, but played it with respect and love for its genuine musical qualities. However, he did take off the gloves and take us over the top with his extraordinary “knock em dead and take no prisoners” virtuoso Rachmaninoff-enhanced ending.
Although I have heard William Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost” many times, his “Serpent’s Kiss” is a first timer for me. Galant gave us an extraordinarily thrilling and vital performance of this work and made it all look very easy. Galant’s fine sense of rhythm, his ability to exploit the humor and amuse us with Bolcom’s parlor tricks (occasional rhythmic knocking on the piano’s fall board and vocal clucking sounds) plus his bewitching spontaneity made this piece one of the great moments of the afternoon.
As if this weren’t impressive enough, Galant gave us one spectacular encore — the Volodos arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. Yuja Wang couldn’t have done it any better.