In the moments before graduate student Elena Cholakova began to play her piano, the audience seemed to hold its breath. Small children munched quietly on bagged cereal, wondering why their parents were so entranced. Then the piano came to life in a grand opening flourish, an extension of the musician who seemed so small against its black mass.
Cholakova performed in Lutkin Hall last week for her Master’s recital. Alone on stage with the grand piano, she showcased the talents that led her to earn a master’s degree in music.
Cholakova opened with a selection from “Sonata N. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111″ by Ludwig van Beethoven. She walked onstage in a dress the same color as the piano, carefully taking her seat at the bench. She placed her shoes on the pedals, precariously balancing on stiletto heels. Cholakova glanced at the small crowd, smiled shyly, then turned her focus to the instrument. Hands raised, fingertips arched daintily, she launched into the movement “Maestoso — Allegro Con Brio Ed Appassionato.”
True to its name, “Maestoso” (which means “Majestic” in Italian) filled the hall with ringing chords and quick melodic bursts. Cholakova struck the piano keys with gusto, her entire body moving as fast as the music. When it seemed the sound could get no louder, it abruptly ended, and Cholakova paused before beginning the second movement: “Arietta — Adagio Molto, Semplice E Cantabile-L’istesso Tempo.”
While “Maestoso” required the utmost technical training, the quiet “Arietta” showed Cholakova as a true artist. She brushed each key lightly, barely playing some notes in the shimmering, arching piece. Her head dipped lower toward the keys as the tune grew softer, finally fading away. The audience in Lutkin Hall remained still for a full ten seconds before breaking into enthusiastic applause. Cholakova rose, took a short bow and went offstage for the intermission.
Cholakova performed the next number, Cesar Franck’s “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue,” with the same feeling and energy as her opening. Her final piece, “Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Op. 12″ by Dimitri Shostakovich, departed from the more classical style of music. The dissonant chords and atypical rhythms were not always a joy to listen to. Yet Cholakova pulled the abstract piece together, showing the art in Shostakovich’s style as clearly as the bell-like tones of more traditional pieces.
Cholakova’s teacher, famous pianist James Giles, taught her well. The graduate student played each piece from memory while adding her own emotion and flair to the music. The few who braved the snow to hear Cholakova play saw a master of the craft at work.