The Eastern Music Festival has a lot to recommend itself: a stellar orchestra made up of professional players from across the United States (the musicians also play in chamber music concerts), a couple hundred students eager to immerse themselves in the five-week intensive education and performance program, and dozens of concerts, all on the bucolic Guilford College campus. But one of the most impressive facets of EMF is its educational component, which brings these aspiring musicians (aged 14-22) in contact with professional musicians to listen and learn. The talent in these young musicians is copious, as witnessed in Sunday afternoon’s concert of eleven of the student pianists.

Unbridled energy characterized the playing of the opening prelude from the Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 847 by J.S. Bach played by Marin Korenaga (Bethany, CT). Impressive facility and a good improvisation feel toward the end made for a good concert opener. The fugue was solid in her individual interpretation. Following was a powerful performance of the Etude in C, Op. 10, No. 7 by Frédérick Chopin. Korenaga’s playing was marked by a good sense of rubato and tasteful pedaling.

Ballade, Op.6 by Amy Beach was played by Sarah Core (Peoria, AZ). After the short, slow introduction, a lyric tune is presented in the right hand with the left hand accompanying. Later lots of arabesques embellish the texture. The left hand takes over the melody in the middle section, which Core admirably brought out. Sparkling sounds and virtuosic passages close out the piece before the gentle conclusion.

Julia Chen (Los Alamos, NM) played Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1. One could have asked for a more ringing tone in the opening melody, which was nicely brought out above the accompanying left hand chords. The lyricism belies the stormy passages in octaves in both hands that are to follow. Chen performed these without a hitch.

Chopin’s quirky Etude in E minor, Op. 25, No. 5 (“Wrong Note”) was played by Andrew Reveno (Atlanta, GA). The pianist displayed notable facility in the middle section, negotiating the left-hand melody as well as arpeggios in the right.

The first three pieces from 6 Klavierstücke, Op. 118 by Johannes Brahms performed by Bonhwi Kim (Seoul, South Korea) was up next. The thick texture with flowing accompaniment for which Brahms is famous is very much in evidence in the opening Allegro non assai. Kim very sensitively brought out the many inner lines in the Andante teneramente. The fiery opening of the final Ballade was nicely contrasted by Kim’s playing of the middle, more reflective section.

Audrey Puschinsky (High Point, NC) played the most classical piece of the program: first movement of the Piano Sonata in E, Op. 6 by Felix Mendelssohn. The pianist provided a gentle reading of this seldom-heard work and brought out the many contrasting sections with aplomb.

“Sonetto 104 del Petrarca” from Années de pèlerinage, S. 161, No. 5 by Franz Liszt is chocked full of contrasting characters: tender passages are juxtaposed against emotional outpourings. Alan Cary (Glen Allen, VA) brought out the unexpected rich harmonies with authority, and the sparkling textures never covered the main melodies.

Also by Liszt was the Polonaise in E, S. 223, No. 2 played by Alex Murphy (Lubbock, TX). The distinctive polonaise rhythm permeates the work, and the frequent flights of fancy displayed Murphy’s fleet fingers to good effect. The solid playing of the middle section, cast in a minor mode, provided contrast.

The Étude-Tableau in D minor, Op. 33, No. 4 by Sergei Rachmaninoff performed by Alex Nagy (Clemmons, NC), begins gently, but eventually breaks into fireworks galore. Nagy’s confident playing gave full expression to the score’s beauty.

Ethan Benadon (Dickerson, MD) played Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, Op. 23. All of the composer’s four ballades are beautiful, but perhaps this first one is the most beautiful. Benadon wonderfully brought out the gorgeous melodies wrapped in luxurious harmonies with magnificent technique and clarity.

The concert concluded with the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, op. 18 performed by Yuki Yokota (Torrance, CA). Playing the orchestral reduction on a much smaller grand piano was Kim. Yokota’s playing of this work was a marvel to hear. She sensitively brought out the score’s many contrasting characters and with technique to burn, she negotiated the virtuosic score with ease. Ensemble between the two pianists, by the way, was superb.

This outstanding concert was the final solo piano recital of the students this year at EMF. To be sure, in this last week of the festival, there are many opportunities to hear the students (and faculty) in both chamber and orchestral settings. See our calendar for details.