The Culture Trip
By Sarah Coughlan
Klara Min is a South Korean pianist living and working Berlin and New York. She has spent much of her career to date touring in North America, Europe and in her home country. In her time she has already played Carniege Hall, the Lincoln Center and the Munich Gasteig, among a number of other famous venues. Min studied at the Manhattan School of Music under Solomon Mikowsky and Byron Janis and at the Lübeck Musikhochschule in Germany. This month, however, she played a hour of music in the Berlin Konzerthaus to an audience held rapt by Min’s performance of Scriabin’s music.
Playing to an almost-full Werner-Otto-Saal inside the Konzerthaus (not a bad showing for a cold Berlin winter’s night), Min settled herself in for a vigourous hour of music, mostly devoted to Scriabin, and rounded off with Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brilliante (Op.22).
Min’s interest in Scriabin follows from the London Symphony Orchestra’s 2014 celebration of his orchestral compositions. Scriabin, a Russia composer born into an aristocratic family in 1841, was heavily influenced by mysticism and his work attempted to draw together the whole room, in a total-work-of-art — audience as well as artists. Min’s performance, however drew in her audience in quite a different way. The audience seemed to be silenced by Min’s performance, a performance that moved easily from delicate and moving to dramatic expressive passages.
Min tackled five of Scriabin’s works over the course of an hour. First the 24 Preludes (Op . 11 ) is a work which covers 24 keys from (all major and minor keys are each used exactly once) which the composer describes as ‘crystalline’ and ‘perfumed’. Next Min dealt with two early pieces of Scriabin’s works, the Number 2. Prelude (Op . 2), a work which frames itself around the contrasts between light and dark. For the attentive listener, Min’s quick snapshots of the composer and offered an inventive, and nuanced take on his work. Min’s next piece dealt with the later works (Op . 57): Desir and Caresse Dansée. Desir is the first work from Scriabin which does not end on the tonic, but rather on an unresolved chord that reverberates around the Werner-Otto-Saal. Caresse Dansée, as the title suggests, is a seductive dance. Finally, Min concluded with Chopin, a distinctly lighter and more playful part of the evening’s recital, a welcome contrast to Scriabin’s drama.
The evening was colourful as Min’s famously chromatic style was showcased to full effect, especially during the dramatic flourishes in the latter part of the Scriabin pieces. The moment that her audience realised that the performance was over the was a pause before the room erupted into delighted applause. Min stood, visably tired from her deeply physical performance. As she left the stage, her audience continued to applaud for two curtain calls.
Min’s newest album is a collection of Scriabin’s work, released on the Steinway and Sons label in January 2016. She returns to New York in February to record for DELOS.