Derek Wang

February 13 and 14, 2023

Review by Asta Kraskouskas, FLKCA Associate

     Tavernier, February 14, 2023, Florida Keys Concert Association’s guest was a piano soloist Derek Wang. In Paris on Sunday, Derek flew to the US to perform in both FLKCA concerts in Marathon and
Seen and Heard International describes Derek’s performance as “consummate virtuosity… moments of almost unbearable simplicity in the slow movements… pure poetry”.
Who is Derek Wang that plays poetry? Derek is the son of the Chinese immigrants. Derek and his brother grew up with music at home. His parents listened to classical music constantly. They thought that music is a beautiful and valuable thing, and it is very important to children’s development. Derek’s father put both boys to bed playing CDs of the great composers of classical music. Derek didn’t know the pieces at the time, but he enjoyed listening to the melody and color. “The music felt very comforting and created a safe place in the world,” Derek says.
Both brothers had piano lessons. Derek started to show interest in his piano at the age of 5. First, he tried to imitate his eldest brother. Later, he started to compete with the brother, despite being five years younger.
Derek likes to travel to different places and to different times, also to the imaginary places and to the imaginary times. Moreover, Derek likes to travel close to the inner life of another person, studying music of the composer, or playing with other musicians. “Playing with others it is a deep experience of another person by listening and not being shy to make one’s own contribution but being aware of how this affects another person. Like collaborating with other people,” Derek says.
Derek is known for his ability to speak about music to various audiences. In 2020, he partnered to launch American Stories, a podcast series that examines and celebrates American identity through music in performance, illuminated by personal histories.
Derek graduated with Master of Music from The Juilliard School. He continues studies at the Yale School of Music as an Artist Diploma candidate in the studio of Boris Slutsky.

In 2021, Derek won first prize at the inaugural New York International Liszt Competition, for which he was awarded an all-Liszt debut recital in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. In 2022, Derek was awarded second prize at the 12th Liszt Utrecht competition in the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic.
Through the concert, Derek engaged with the audience explaining every piece he played. Derek clarified: “the attitude is not to show off, but to create a moment to the audience to remember. Spark an interest in music: to listen, maybe to start playing again, or to receive a new perspective”.
Derek’s concert could be described as a poetic music experience of two worlds. The first half of the concert was a celebration of music, of our inner desire, of a fantasy. Derek played Fantasia (Capriccio) in C major of F. J. Haydn, 7 Fantasias of J. Brahms, and Valse from Gounod’s Faust of Franz Liszt. The third piece kept the audience in silence and awe. It was almost like everyone was present at the scene when Faust falls in love with the beautiful peasant girl Marguerite, while devil whispers in Faust’s ears to give away his soul to gain the freedom of youth and knowledge.
After the first half of the concert, Cynthia Finamore, a season ticket holder, said, “(I) loved the past piece (Valse from Faust). (Derek is) skilled at the piano. Gives a real idea how to understand the music. He understands (it) so deeply. When we listen, we never think that way. Excellent interpretation. Makes music more meaningful”.
The second half dealt with commemoration and transcendence, with everyone’s shared experience of the last two years of the pandemic and the losses we all have experienced.
Derek played Piano Sonata No 2, by F. Chopin, Nocturne No. 13 by G. Faure, and Piano Concerto No 1, Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) by F. Liszt.
The third movement of the Piano Sonata No 2 was the well-known Funeral March. As the pianists explained: “Music speaks eloquently. Chopin invited us to a very vulnerable place. The sense of loss. Everyone has different personal relationship to the experience of loss. The music leaves us room for everyone to experience it. All the arts explore transcendence. Don’t think (that this piece is) just a dark music. (The movement has) hope for the living”. Derek also implied to faith and hope for the afterlife.
The very last piece of the Dance of the Dead refers to a long tradition in the visual arts. Death, personified as a skeleton, comes for all, from the greatest of the great to the lowest of the low. Personification of death in a musical parody moves from chants to march, to grotesque dance, and concludes with a triumphant disaster.
Cynthia Arsenault, a season ticket holder of many years, said, “Derek orients us, gives us a context to understand music better, and does it in an entertaining way. Very experiential. It (the concert) is a treat”. Her husband Ray added, “It is amazing that he (Derek) did all of this from memory. No sheets!”

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