American Dreaming: Cliburn Silver medalist Kenneth Broberg and five local pianists thrill in the Cliburn at the Modern’s American Showpieces concert
J. Robin Coffelt, Theater Jones
The Cliburn at the Modern series is best known for its composer forums. But Saturday’s concert, although it did include the work of 20th and 21st century American composers, instead highlighted several local pianists—as well as one guest.
The five DFW-based pianists on Saturday’s program proved the depth of musical talent in our area. Catharine Lysinger, Evan Mitchell, Jonathan Tsay, Alex McDonald, and concert moderator Shields-Collins Bray are all formidable pianists, though each brought his or her own temperament and strengths. The only non-local musician was 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Silver Medalist Kenny Broberg.
The repertoire on the program was all American, and with one exception, was from 1977 or later. That outlier was Broberg’s contribution, the Fuga from Samuel Barber’s 1949 Sonata for Piano, Op. 26. This sonata movement, which ended the program, was not the lyrical Barber that we recognize from, say, the Adagio for Strings or the Violin Concerto. Instead, this is thorny, unmelodic, but impressively complex, with as many as six voices. Broberg executed this immensely difficult repertoire with seeming ease, leaving little doubt as to why he was selected as a Cliburn medalist.
Review: An Exhilarating and Promising Start to Season Brian Hick, Hastings & St. Leonards Observer
Kenny Broberg won the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competiton and has an impressive list of international orchestras with whom he has worked. He certainly seemed much at ease with Hastings Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, relishing the rapport between himself and the players as well as the close proximity of the audience. It must be rare to find himself surrounded by people, the piano being situated in the centre of the concert hall, rather than at one end.
The immediacy paid off with a virtuoso performance of exceptional dynamic range. The near thwacked scale runs in the first movement melted into the gentlest of touches, and there was an improvisatory feel to much of his playing which communicated a sense of living creativity rather than regurgitation of the familiar.
The second movement was particularly impressive with a sense of the romantic movement hovering over the development of his musical line. Carried away, there were times when Broberg seemed to want to sing along with his own playing and had to hold himself back.
The finale had a sense of joy and life, which radiated from the soloist and players to the whole hall. We were lucky to get an encore – a brief Chopin Mazurka – which was a gem and left us wanting more.
Kenny Broberg is a current graduate student at Park University International Center for Music. At only 23 years old, he has already shown his spark for success at international competitions such as winning first prize at both the Hastings (England) and Dallas, as well as medals at other competitions including New Orleans, Seattle, and Sydney. Broberg is an extremely talented pianist and is certain to have a prosperous career as an artist. His strong and satisfying sound at the piano along with clear and sensible phrasing, made for an exquisite concert Sunday afternoon at the Folly Theater.
Broberg began the concert with César Franck’s Prelude, Fugue, and Variations in B Minor, Op. 18. This piece is not necessarily known to all pianists because it is originally for organ; Harold Bauer transcribed it for piano. Broberg’s performance of the piece was astounding! I have not heard a better rendition. Because it was to be played on the organ, there are a lot of leaps and jumps in the music to try and imitate the wide range of powerful sounds the organ can make. This was not an issue for Broberg; his careful timing and full resonant sound at the piano made it look effortless. He was always attentive to the singing melody in the Prelude and was distinct with the subject in the Fugue and Variations. Not only did he give the necessary attention to the melody at all times, but his awareness and treatment of the inner voices, or the counterpoint, was amazing. Even the smallest of details in the music were observed.
His intricate artistry continued in the Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911 by Bach. There are many interpretations of how to play Bach at the piano; I think every pianist comes up with their own idea and execution of the “correct style.” What matters most is that the performance was convincing. Broberg’s interpretation was unquestionably conclusive. His strong technical agility showed in this piece, especially for the virtuosic writing of Bach. The way he treated each voice throughout the piece showed his true mastery at the piano. He achieved a variety of sounds and colors in the Toccata, which made for a compelling performance.
The Barber Piano Sonata is a beast of a piece. This virtuosic showpiece in four movements includes extended chromaticism, tone rows, highly dissonant chords, and other many twentieth-century musical ideas that Barber incorporated. In lighter terms, it is a very difficult piece! Broberg had no trouble with these features of the music. It is easy to get bogged down with the opening motive of the first movement, this did not happen. He played with such purpose and direction in the music, it just made sense. Broberg’s strong presentation of the various characteristics throughout the piece brought out the unique soundscapes and colors in the music. The fourth movement is probably the hardest part of the piece because of the four-voice fugue and the devilishly demanding ending: but we could hear every note and chord.
Describing the Liszt Piano Sonata as a ‘difficult’ piece is an understatement. It demands virtuosity, drama, and a high emotional connection to the music. Some scholars suggest this sonata has four movements, but the piece is through-composed and doesn’t stop in-between sections. Broberg’s approach to this piece was bold and fearless in the fast and fervent sections, and sensitive in the middle, more introverted parts. We heard the same attentiveness to details throughout this sonata as we did in the Barber. He channeled Liszt’s audacious personality in his playing. Despite an odd, random ringing in the hall during the middle portion of the sonata, Broberg retained his unwavering focus and his playing did not falter.
The program Broberg played represented some large forms of piano composition, and so for his encores, we got to experience two short pieces of a smaller scale, Chopin’s Mazurka in F-sharp Minor from the Op. 59 set of Mazurkas and Gershwin’s Virtuoso Etude No. 3 “Embraceable You.” Just like the rest of the program, Broberg had the audience at his fingertips during these two pieces. Not only did they showcase his virtuosity, but his sense of romantic passion in the music, his understanding of musical timing and the superb simplicity of his sound.
Today, Kenny takes home the silver medal at the prestigious 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Originally attracting 290 applications from all over the world, the competition invited 30 competitors to participate in the live competition lasting over two weeks in Fort Worth, Texas. Kenny advanced through the four rounds and performed Rachmaninoff’s renowned Variations on a Theme by Paginini with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra led by Leonard Slatkin in his culminating performance.
If you missed Kenny’s performances at the competition, you can still watch them at cliburn2017.medici.tv.
Review of Kenny’s Semifinal Performance with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Nicholas McGegan
Wayne Lee Gay, Texas Classical Review
“American Kenneth Broberg, performing the Concerto No. 25 in C, and making his first appearance in the semifinal round, gave plenty of cause to perk up tired ears on the third day of semifinal performances. Picking up on McGegan’s carefully shaped and eventful presentation of the orchestral introduction, he responded with an imaginative shaping of themes, revelation of inner voices, and an unfailing sense of momentum in each movement. His solo entry in the slow movement encapsulated his performance: the simple three-note descending broken chord absolutely drew the audience in. (In an amusing improvisational touch in the first movement, he added a bit of La Marseillaise, mimicking a rising motif from the movement, into the cadenza.) This is the sort of performance one would long to hear more often on those occasions when symphony orchestras program Mozart concertos.”