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Corey Chang: Composer & Pianist

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Mon May 20th, 2019

Corey Chang, Drew Carlson, Laura Perez-Rangel, Eliot Roske, Charlotte Ullman

Corey Chang’s father loved to play J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C. He sometimes put his two-year old son on his lap when he played in the parlor. Once when he played that piece, Corey responded from the living room where there was a small piano by the fireplace—to the family’s astonishment they realized Corey was playing the Bach’s Prelude in C. This was before he turned three and Corey had not yet learned his letters or how to read music. I t was then that his family had an inkling that Corey might have a career in music. Both Corey’s mother and grandmother were present this past Sunday afternoon at Bard College’s László Bitó Conservatory Building for his five-year double-major graduation Recital.

The program was divided into two parts: the first half featured Corey as pianist; the second half as composer. Corey played three of Frederic Chopin’s four ballades. Although Chopin is renowned for his Preludes, Études, Mazurkas, Polonaise, Berceuse, and Nocturnes, but the Ballade was Chopin’s only original genre invention, yet they are not much played because they are often considered to be the most challenging pieces in the traditional repertoire; they are conjectured to have been inspired by poet Adam Mickiewicz. Corey played all pieces from memory. 

Corey opened with Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 with dramatic, slow tempo, which offered dynamic contrast to the explosion that sets the Ballade racing. Begun in Vienna in 1831, it was not completed until Chopin’s magic 1835 year in Paris; it was Robert Schumann’s favorite Chopin composition. Corey’s playing was vibrant, enchanting, and disciplined.   

Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major (1841), Op. 47 follows the shape of an arch and Corey sculpted that rise and descent with nuanced excitement, displaying confidence and power in his 1/16th note arpeggio runs. The left-hand chromatic runs were thrilling. The technique of this ballade remains intricate and cerebral, while the reversal conclusion with merely four chords breathes simple and unexpected naiveté which Corey expertly coaxed with effortless ease.

Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 (1842), an extremely dense Slavic sonata-like composition with counterpoint and counter melodies, demands the simultaneous development of two themes articulating aching melancholy. Many pianists consider this Ballade the apex of Chopin’s technical complexity and emotional accessibility when played correctly. Both technique and emotion sang from the keys.

Dreams for flute and piano (2014) was Corey’s first composition at Bard College. Flutist Gabriela Marie Rosado Torres caught the self-confident, assured female voice in this dialogue with the piano that expressed male frustration and anger through dissonant outbursts, yet the flute clung assuredly to its serene line. Both piano and flute delivered a palpable hypnotic line.

Fields of Shards for solo piano (2018) explored lyric beauty with awareness of danger. The story middle passage offered an emotional flight that was acknowledged as illusion with the composition modulating to lyric repose and resolution.

Soprano Rachel Gunning appeared to sing Corey’s arrangement of several poems by Stephen Crane. I was struck how the poems influenced the more optimistic Vachel Lindsay. Gunning’s voice soared and captured both simple aspiration and biting irony of Crane’s deceptively simple yet nuanced poems; she displayed great range, powerful delivery with caressing smoothness in the upper register as well fey contempt that underlay some of Crane’s lines.

The finale was Corey’s Sounds of the Garden for string quartet (2018), written last summer. This six-movement minimalist meditation on the history of human evolution from “Edenic” tree monkey to over-populated and over-sexed question mark was wryly riveting. Violinist Laura Perez-Rangel from Venezuela was outstanding in the second movement while cellist Charlotte Ullman robustly stood forth in the fifth movement. The composition wavered between darkness and light as it gave a chance for each instrument to contribute to the debate on who and what is humankind. Perhaps there is even playful allusion to the greatest of all Chinese novels, Journey to the West.

 At the conclusion of the concert, Corey’s composition teacher, ever-effervescent Joan Tower, stood up and declared Corey to be her favorite pupil: he went to all Bard concerts, he worked hard, worked with composition in piano, ensembles, and symphonic modality, but above all possessed an open and curious mind. There is an amiable accessibility to Corey’s meditative compositions that provide contagious pleasure.

Corey will be off to Juilliard, where he has a scholarship, for his master’s degree in music. Corey appears to have a bright future and we hope to follow his promising career.