One of the great clichés in film and theater is the Big Star suddenly becoming incapacitated, and the new-comer making a last-minute hit.
Well, I’m happy to report that this is exactly what happened at a People’s Symphony Concert (PSC) last Sunday (January 12th). For the first concert of the New Year, celebrated pianist Radu Lupu (born 1945) was scheduled to play. Lupu has been a great friend of PSC for several years, and has always been met with riotous applause.
Last week, however, Lupu came down with the flu – threatening to turn into pneumonia. Not only did his illness force a cancellation of his PSC concert, but Lupu also had to miss his final performance with the Montreal Symphony and hasten his return to Europe. We here at The Jade Sphinx wish him a speedy recovery.
However, never letting an opportunity to let new, significant talents make their mark, PSC managers Frank Salomon and David Himmelheber reached out to up-and-coming pianist Kuok-Wai Lio (born 1989). Lio – who considers Lupu “a god” and who planned on watching the performance from the audience -- quickly stepped in to perform selections by Leos Janacek (1854-1928), Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and Robert Schumann (1810-1856). The result was magical.
Lio began playing at age five. In 1997, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and in 2006, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music. His principal teachers included Gabriel Kwok and Gary Graffman. He has also worked with Andras Schiff at international master classes and festivals in Europe.
Lio has received prizes in international competitions, including Fulbright, Gina Bachauer, Seiler, Steinway, Ettlingen and Chopin (Tokyo). In 2004, he was awarded a Commendation of Merit from the Chief Executive of Macau.
Lio played Janacek’s In the Mists (1912) to great effect. The piece has a sweet and delicate air, and Lio captured that with great sensitivity. It was a wonderful crystallization of mood, and the performance, transporting.
For Schubert, Lio played Four Impromptus, D. 935 (1827). These were handled with remarkable élan, including the Impromptu in B-flat Major, which is the most interesting, and musically satisfying, of the group.
After intermission, Lio returned for Schumann’s challenging Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6. This includes 18 movements, and mastery of this piece is a mark of true virtuosity. Lio handled it deftly and with astonishing empathy for a performer so young.
Kuok-Wai Lio is a remarkable talent and we will be hearing more from him in the years to come.