Young Chinese pianist proves impressive in Miami debut

By David Fleshler

Ran Jia made her debut at the Miami International Piano Festival Friday night. Photo credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Ran Jia made her debut at the Miami International Piano Festival Friday night. Photo credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

In selecting musicians for the Miami International Piano Festival, founder and artistic director Giselle Brodsky takes pride in going her own way. She ignores competition prizes, places little weight on recommendations and pays scant attention to reviews.

And so on Friday at the Lincoln Theatre in Miami Beach, the festival presented a solo recital by a promising young student at the Curtis Institute of Music who is virtually unknown in the United States.

Ran Jia, 20, a native of the southern Chinese city of Chengdu, showed considerable ability in a program of works by Scarlatti, Schubert, Schumann and Ravel that eschewed the flashy repertoire favored by many young pianists. Unfortunately her performance – which took place with her hands projected on a screen above the stage — took place before a tiny crowd, with the Lincoln Theatre appearing less than a quarter full.

Jia, who studies with the renowned Curtis teacher Gary Graffman, opened with Scarlatti’s one-movement Sonatas in B Minor, K. 377, B Minor  K. 27, E Minor, K. 87 and A Major, K. 209. Her performance, particularly of the second sonata of the set, lacked the clicking precision many pianists bring to these works, as she gave a free and rhythmically varied interpretation that placed a personal stamp on these works. The best performance came in the grave E Minor sonata, where a running bass line sets the tone, and she was able to bring increased intensity without major changes in tempo or dynamics.

In Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor, Op. 42, Jia gave her best performance of the evening. The performance of the first movement, with its thundering octaves and dramatic climaxes, had a largeness that came from taking time to allow each phrase to breathe. This did not make the performance episodic but rather added to the drama, as she brought an unhurried sense of line and finality to each phrase. In the Andante, a theme and variations, she brought a delicate but sure touch to the tragic dissonances of the minor key variation.

Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor rarely appears on recital programs, possibly because the composer’s finest inspirations for the instrument tended to emerge outside the formal requirements of the sonata. The first movement, which Schumann directs to be played as fast as possible, was a whirl of notes that showed Jia had a fine technique, despite selecting a program that didn’t emphasize keyboard fireworks.  And in the second movement, where Schumann seems to relax a bit write music more congenial to his own style, she brought a sense of poetry to his long, dreamy phrases.

Ravel’s tribute to the Baroque period, Le Tombeau de Couperin, appeared to be the most technically demanding work on the program and Jia breezed through the difficulties without a trace of effort. In the Prelude, she showed the control necessary to bring out the principal melody through the blur of notes surrounding it.  And she showed a good feel for the French melancholy of the work, in the dissonance-tinged melodies of the Menuet. The concluding Toccata was a whirl of octaves and thundering chords that provided the recital with a bravura conclusion.

The Miami International Piano Festival continues Saturday with  a recital by the Spanish pianist Claudio Martínez Mehner. The festival runs through Sunday. Call 877-722-2924 or go to

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Sat May 15, 2010
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