Renowned as a modern performer of historical music, Hilda Huang has dedicated her burgeoning career to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This Saturday, March 11, listeners can tune into the 95.9 WCRI radio station at 7:00p.m. to hear her first all-Bach recital.
Originally performed live last year during the Kingston Chamber Music Festival’s summer concerts, the audio recording has been engineered by Andreas K. Meyer of Swan Studios in New York City. WCRI will air her performance in its entirety. The timing is especially fitting: March is the month of Bach’s birthday.
The ‘feeling’ of a composer in relationship with performers
Huang’s ability to bring together traditions of performance on piano and harpsichord characterizes her distinctive expertise. As she’s learned to play Bach’s music on modern piano, harpsichord, and organ – an exceptional accomplishment – Huang has become familiar with what she calls his “compositional identity.” She notes that despite his lack of travels, he was able to soak up the musical influences of Spain, France, Italy, and other countries without ever leaving Germany. “It means that Bach the composer developed relationships with other composers through their music.”
These “extraordinary characteristics” compel him into a category of his own as a composer while also shaping how musicians perform his music and audiences engage with it. “Reception is a cycle that develops over the ages,” Huang says. “The composer writes music that sounds a certain way when the performer plays it, which the audience then perceives in a particular way, which then influences how they connect when a future performer plays that piece. It’s all very circular – which is to say that the ‘identity’ or ‘feeling’ of a composer in their music exists in the relationships that transmit his music. And yet Bach is unmistakable, which is quite remarkable when you look at the compositional language he shared closely with contemporary German organ and harpsichord works.”
A musical identity shaped by Bach
Huang began playing the piano in preschool, and started learning the harpsichord at age nine when she learned it was the original instrument Bach’s keyboard music was written for. Her first public performances were of Bach’s music, and the “development of [her] musical identity to the public was in the image of Bach’s music.” She won the Leipzig Bach Competition at age 18, after which Steinway engaged her for several international recitals and sparked her now burgeoning international performing career.
Her growing recognition as a protégée of his music reflects who she is as an artist herself, not simply what she excels at playing: “Through Bach’s music I feel I can express my aesthetic experience in as native a tongue as I ever could have,” she says.
Now, Huang is both a Steinway Artist and an Astral Artist. The latter is a nonprofit intensive mentoring program that specializes in developing the early careers of extraordinary classical musicians. It was founded and directed for 30 years by KCMF board member Vera Wilson.
“Astral has supported my career by offering mentorship, networking, and performance opportunities,” Huang says. “[They] take the time to get to know their artists, and as a result, we’ve been able to work on a wide variety of projects together, including traditional performance events such as a recital at KCMF as well as a new installation project I’m developing.”
The future is Bach
As she looks forward to continued travels throughout North America and Europe performing the music she’s become acclaimed for, she remains grounded in the joy that music brings: “The world of the arts offers a space that recognizes and welcomes all feelings and experiences, where everyone can become equal by virtue of their response to the art. This makes the aesthetic experience a moment for stillness and reflection, a place from which to gain perspective on life’s busyness.”