Yeol Eum Son makes a splash with debut recital at Portland Piano International

Photo: © 2009 Altré Media

Photo: © 2009 Altré Media

Yeol Eum Son, silver medalist at the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition, made a strong case for herself with her recital for the Portland Piano International Festival on Sunday afternoon (July 12) at the Wood Forestry Center. Son’s playing showed a lot of thought and plenty of spontaneity as well in a program that consisted of works by Robert Schuman, Mason Bates, Franz Liszt, and Frédéric Chopin.

In particular, Son’s performance of all 14 of Chopin’s Waltzes, during the second half of the concert, was very impressive, because each waltz stood out individually yet together they formed an interwoven tapestry. Son found the wistful melancholy that pervades some of the waltzes, but never went overboard. She also revealed the joyful sentiment in many of the waltzes yet kept that sentiment inbounds. She seemed to have an innate sense as to when to pull back the volume and the tempo, and that kept the audience fully engaged. After loud and sustained applause, Son returned to play the “Liebesleid” by Kreisler/Rachmaninoff as an encore.

Son also showed exceptional artistry with “Spanish Rhapsody.” She poured tons of emotion into this piece and there were moments in which her playing almost became ferocious. The results were spectacular and lots of cheering ensued after the piece came to its glorious end.

I also enjoyed Son’s playing of the short and almost jazzy “White Lies for Lomax” by Mason Bates. I had never heard this piece before, yet it is immediately accessible with a light rhythm and a series of notes that percolate like coffee to the top.

Son began her recital with Schumann’s “Fantasiestücke” (“Fantasy Pieces”), and she succeeded in drawing out the contrasting moods in some of the pieces. But, to my ears, they needed a little more shaping so that the work as a whole would have more of an arc.


Son will be in Oregon again to perform at the Sunriver Music Festival near Bend, Oregon. On Thursday, August 13, she will give a piano recital. On Friday, August 14, she will instruct a master class, and on Saturday, August 15, she will perform a concerto with the Sunriver Music Festival Orchestra.


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