Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: UWGB piano duo draws on aura of coming Winter Olympics

Michael Rector and Sylvia Hong

GREEN BAY, Wis. - We think of the Olympics in a sports context, naturally. But the games also have a cultural significance for the host country. It’s the idea that the event is an all-encompassing showcase.

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music will be part of that special luster in the coming Winter Olympics. A piano duo from its ranks – Michael Rector and his wife, Sylvia Hong – will perform in a Feb. 13 concert in Pyeongchang, South Korea, host site of the Winter Olympics.

First, audiences in Oshkosh and Green Bay will be able to hear Rector and Hong in performances that include material they will perform in South Korea.

Rector and Hong will present a guest recital at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in Music Hall of the Arts and Communication Center. Info: uwosh.edu/music/calendar-of-events.

Rector and Hong will repeat the program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as part of the “6:30 Concert Series” at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5, in Fort Howard Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts on campus.

In effect, the programs are preparation for the concert in Pyeongchang.

Works to be performed include “Allegro brilliant, Op. 92” by Felix Mendelssohn, “Rondo in A Major, K. 386” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Concerto for Two Pianos” by Francis Poulenc, “La valse” by Maurice Ravel and “Scaramouche” by Darius Milhaud.
According to a UWGB press release: Hong and Rector were in Korea last May as part of a concert tour. It was there that they were honored by the Mayor of Gangneung, Lee Seok-rai, with a request to return to play during the 2018 Winter Olympics celebration. The games are scheduled to take place Feb. 9-25.

In South Korea, “We'll be performing Poulenc’s ‘Concerto for Two Pianos’ with the Gangneung Philharmonic (conducted by Sekwon Ryu),” Rector said. “The orchestra (like most in the country) is a public institution, so that is why the mayor was involved. It’s not exactly an IOC event, but it is in the host city during the games.”

While there, the couple plans to take in the Olympic experience, hoping to see some of the competitive events and particularly speed skating, in which South Korean Olympians have been quite competitive.

Hong and Rector began performing together as a duo shortly after being married in 2011. They have played recitals at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Lotte Concert Hall in Seoul, South Korea.

In April 2013, the duo won the second prize and Abild Prize for the best performance of American music at the Ellis Competition for Duo-Pianists. In April 2014, they toured Eastern Europe, performing with the Georgian Sinfonietta and Black Sea Symphony.

Highlights of their numerous tours in Korea include playing two sold-out concerts on the same day in Busan, performances all around the country and invitations to teach master classes at more than 20 universities and music schools.

Since 2014 Rector has served as assistant professor of music at UWGB, where he is also director of the Piano Academy, a community music program. His complete biography can be found at michaelrector.net. He is committed to making the language of classical music vivid for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Hong is an associate lecturer of music for the university. She is known to audiences worldwide as a pianist of imagination and virtuosity. She made her debut in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall at the age of 16 as the first prize winner of the National Russian Competition. As a soloist, she has performed with the leading orchestras of South Korea, including the KBS Orchestra and Suwon Symphony.

The “6:30 Concert Series” is designed to connect the campus with the community through the exploration of music. Performances feature insightful presentations by performers, composers and special guests. The series offers new perspectives on diverse styles, often exploring the music from multiple angles. All performances take place in the Weidner Center’s Fort Howard Hall. They begin at 6:30 p.m. and last between 60 and 90 minutes. To learn more about the series and upcoming performances, visit weidnercenter.com/630series /.Although the performances are free and open to the public, donations are accepted for the benefit of UWGB’s Music program.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.


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