“Young Pianist at Home in the Past and the Present: Jenny Q Chai Performs at Zankel Hall” by Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, April 20, 2012:
“Some young performers specialize in contemporary music because they think it is important to do so or to acquire a hip professional profile. The best reason to play new music is because it fascinates you. The Chinese-born, 28-year-old American pianist Jenny Q Chai demonstrated true affinity for contemporary music throughout the challenging program she played on Thursday night at Zankel Hall.
The recital was presented by Ear to Mind, a New York organization that introduces audiences to contemporary music and for which Ms. Chai is a co-director.
In the 60-minute first half of her program, playing with resourceful technique and sensitivity, Ms. Chai performed works by Debussy, Ligeti and Messiaen, along with the premieres of two pieces written by young composer friends. She also gave the American premiere of a work by the Italian composer Marco Stroppa, the subject of her thesis for the doctor of musical arts degree that she is pursuing at the Manhattan School of Music.
In the second half, two selections from Gyorgy Kurtag’s “Jatekok” suite led directly into a performance of Schumann’s rhapsodic “Kreisleriana,” a touchstone Romantic work that Richard Goode will play next Wednesday at Carnegie Hall.
Many emerging pianists, either by instinct or on purpose, go for too much dazzle and flair. Ms. Chai is that rare young artist who might indulge in a little more flashiness. Though her playing was admirable for its refinement and directness, there was something dutiful about her performances, particularly her account of the Schumann. Devising mix-and-match programs of the old and new is something she learned from one of her teachers, the brilliant French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who will play two programs, titled “The Liszt Project,” on Saturday and Sunday at Alice Tully Hall.
Ms. Chai, who has given talks about the connections and contrasts between the études of Debussy and Ligeti, opened with four of them, two by either composer, in alternation, played with rippling clarity and elegance. Inhyun Kim‘s “Parallel Lines,” a premiere, is an impetuous short piece in which passages of oscillating intervals cascade over chime tones and ominous harmonies in the piano’s low register. Ashley Fu-Tsun Wang‘s “Current,” the other premiere, shifts between twittering high figures, punchy chords and frenetically jazzy episodes.
In Mr. Stroppa’s “Innige Cavatina” a halting inner voice pokes through the skittish textures, an effect that Ms. Chai brought off deftly. When she ended the first half with Messiaen’s stunning “Cantéyodjayâ,” an ecstatic exploration of Hindu rhythms from 1949, this towering composer came across like a father of them all regarding experiments in contemporary piano music.
It was revealing to end with Schumann’s “Kreisleriana.” Ms. Chai rightly placed this visionary score in a context of cutting-edge contemporary music. Though she played with lucid textures and an ear for detail, she did not fully convey the fantastical quality of the piece. She seemed at home again in two encores: one of Nils Vigeland’s “Five Pieces for Jenny Chai” and John Cage’s “The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs,” which required her to sing a soft song while tapping rhythms on the closed lid and other parts of the piano.”
The original text of New York Times Concert Review here.