Earlier this month, three guitar students who study with Sharon Isbin at Juilliard, gave a free weekend concert at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Bokyung Byun, Alberta Khoury and Tengyue Zhang took to the stage to perform together as a trio, opening with Jacques Chandonnet’s spirited arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s Danza del juego de amor followed by Isaac Albéniz’s Córdoba, Op. 232, No. 4. As a trio, the group plays with cedar guitar warmth, clarity, unison and good balance.
Following the trio performance, each guitarist returned to the stage, one at a time, to perform solo pieces, starting with Ms. Byun. A native of Seoul, Korea, Bokyung Byun, is the winner of the 2007 Guitar Foundation of American International Youth Competition and Vienna International Youth Competition. Before entering Juilliard, she studied with William Kanengiser in Los Angeles and with Chen Zhi in Beijing. She performed Nikita Koshkin’s Usher Waltz, inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Johann Kaspar Mertz’s Fantaisie Hongroise. Byun performs with fleet-fingered, delicate precision and expressiveness and she is an equally engaging storyteller with a dry sense of humor as she describes the background of her pieces.
Tengyue Zhang grew up in China and also studied with Professor Chen Zhi at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He has won first prize at both the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Youth Competition (Senior Division) and the International Guitar Youth Competition in Vienna. He performed Miguel Llobet’s Spanish-flavored Variaciones Sobre Un Tema De Sor, Op. 15 and Sergio Assad’s Aquarelle in 3 movements: Divertimento, Valseana and Preludio e Toccatina.
Zhang’s performance of the Llobet was heartfelt and technically adept, particularly in one passage that consisted of a demanding run played entirely by the left hand, a feat that requires considerable strength and dexterity in order to achieve the proper clarity and projection. Zhang spoke of his preference for the more gently impressionistic, modern Aquarelle and how its composer, Sergio Assad, had been inspired to write the piece based in imagery of his wife’s watercolors. In addition to being a quietly confident, understated performer onstage, Zhang has an engaging way of instructing the audience about elements of the music. He took the time to demonstrate an example of the Brazilian rhythm within Aquarelle to the audience, explaining that it was another aspect of the piece that he loved.
A native of Sydney, Australia, Alberta Khoury studied guitar with Alfred Alexander, Gregory Pilker and Marco Tamayo before entering Juilliard. She was the youngest competitor and first woman guitarist to reach the semifinals of the Parkening International Guitar Competition. Last year, Khoury performed in Opera Australia’s new production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the Sydney Opera House, conducted by Guillaume Tourniaire. She performed the Five Bagatelles by William Walton and the elegantly dramatic Fantasie Dramatique ‘Le Depart’, Op. 31 by Napoléon Coste.
This writer has heard the Walton piece numerous times. Can’t stand it, Sam-I- Am, never have. I would not like to hear it in a box. And not with a fox. But I have to confess, this time I did warm up to it, for once. Either I forgot about the baby crying in the back row or the baby stopped crying, I didn’t notice. Khoury played a very rock n’roll version of it–precisely what that piece needs—which is to say, it was probably the first time I ever heard it performed with more heart than metronome. That’s a compliment. Khoury has a distinct way of hurling herself headlong into her music and subsequently captivating the audience with her conviction.
The students returned to the stage together once more as a trio to close the concert with a performance of the lively Slavonic Dance Op. 48, No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak, arranged by Dark Petrinjak. Those who attended that afternoon had been treated to a perfect-length concert that was neither uncomfortably long nor too brief. And some day, many within that audience may realize just how lucky they were on this autumn weekend in New York City to hear these three young artists early in their careers, each with their own very distinct personalities and playing styles.
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