Going rogue: Song to perform contemporary piano pieces

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Pianist Ju-Ping Song will give a guest faculty recital at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

Ju-Ping Song likes throwing caution to the wind. A true maverick when it comes to the piano keys, Song has a constant appetite for discovery, and when it comes to classical music, she likes to go rogue.

At 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, audiences will get to see the maverick at work. Song’s recital includes work that will make its United States debut in Chautauqua, followed by work that features the prison letters of Oscar Wilde.

The renowned pianist will play Rolf Hind’s “Towers of Silence,” to be heard in the U.S. for the first time. According to the composer, it is a piece that “constantly transforms itself not only in the notes but how the instrument is actually played.” Frederic Rzewski’s “De Profundis” is also featured in this afternoon’s lineup.

There’s a theatricality to Song’s performance, which include speaking, moving and playing more than just the keys of the piano. Song said it’s the music that creates a balance for everything.

“These pieces use piano in a way that transcends,” Song said. “When you hear the music, when you listen to it and you see all of these extended techniques, the quirkiness of them falls by the wayside and you just kind of level in sound. I am very happy to share this music in Chautauqua.”

With a strong affinity for contemporary music, Song said that discovering new music and methods of playing has challenged her in an array of ways and that she enjoys being a vessel for a new wave of music.

“As a student, you’re kind of spoon fed the great masterpieces,” Song said. “These are great masterpieces and you have to learn them, but you’re not necessarily encouraged to hone your critical thinking  in terms of what makes music great. What does it really mean to you now as a human being in this century, in this year, in this particular location and what really speaks to you? I think a lot of those questions are raised by composers now.”

In a field of music where classical is king, Song said that she is most often asked is why she went rogue and plays more contemporary music.

“In classical music especially, tradition is art and everything else kind of falls by the wayside,” she said. “There’s this perpetual questioning of, why do you want to do something new when there so much great work that’s been done? Music is a living thing and is created every day and [today’s] music is just as, if not more, important than music that was written 200 years ago.”

With a band that performs frequently throughout the year, teaching and touring, the acclaimed pianist has much to keep her occupied but said it is the discovery, exploration and sharing of music that keeps life fun.

“It’s a unique experience to discover and I love having the chance to share music,” she said. “You can talk to somebody until you’re blue in the face but it really won’t make a difference until they’re touched by something you do.”