A combination of motorcycle and car accidents brought pianist Jihyun Lily Moon’s musical and academic career to a halt midway through her second year at UCLA. Injured nerves in her right shoulder and arm prevented Moon from playing the piano at a competitive level.
Moon spent two and a half years away from UCLA and the piano to recover. After the third-year classical piano student returned to UCLA in 2014, she met Allison Tsai, then a fourth-year classical piano student, in a collaborative piano class.
The pair clicked immediately, Moon said.
As a tribute to their friendship, Tsai and Moon performed a two-piano concert on Saturday at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Beverly Hills for a small gathering of close friends and family. The performance featured works they learned throughout their year in class together.
Tsai and Moon said the concert represented their farewells to one other, each having been a source of comfort and motivation for the other since they met. This fall, Tsai will attend the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University for her graduate studies, while Moon will continue her undergraduate piano studies at UCLA.
“It was really difficult for me to get back on the stage, since I had been away from the piano for such a long time,” Moon said. “Music itself was difficult. But when I began performing again, Allison would always encourage me – we supported each other.”
For the concert, the pair performed Mozart’s Sonata No. 2 for four hands in B-flat major and Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2 for two pianos. In addition, the pianists each performed one solo work – Moon performed “Kreisleriana” by Schumann, and Tsai performed “Four Piano Pieces” by Brahms.
Moon said learning, practicing and performing the Mozart sonata as a duo during their shared time at UCLA allowed her to connect the music to her friendship with Tsai.
Each movement, Moon said, mirrors aspects of both friends’ personalities that make them compatible for each other: The first movement is majestic, while the second is calm and the third is playful.
“Our friendship is regal and laid-back, but at the same time, when we have fun, we have so much fun,” Moon said.
James Lent, the professor of the collaborative piano class, said Moon and Tsai brought different emotions and elements to each piece.
Lent said Moon possesses a fierce, fiery spirit necessary for the Rachmaninoff suite, while Tsai lends a gentle technicality crucial to the Mozart sonata.
“(Tsai) and (Moon) make a great pair, not just because they’re friends, but because they support each other musically,” Lent said. “Their personalities shine when they play and help each other.”
A trademark feature of a two-piano concert is the configuration of the pianos, in which the soundboards of the two pianos lay nested adjacent to each other. This allows the two performers to face each other during the concert, yet neither performer can see the other’s hands.
Tsai said this style of performing is based solely on faith in the other artist, since both artists judge their coordination and balance their sounds based on facial expressions and shoulder movements.
“We never want one piano to overwhelm each other, especially since many of the parts are equal in importance,” Tsai said.
Although Tsai and Moon will go their separate ways after the concert, both cited each other as the passion behind the performance and their school year together.
Walter Ponce, Tsai’s former and Moon’s current private piano instructor at UCLA, said both artists share the same fighting spirit that allows them to spread their passion for their music.
“(Tsai) will leave UCLA and (Moon) will continue – that’s life – but it’s a wonderful thing to be able to play a concert with your friend,” Ponce said. “There is no selfishness. That’s what music is all about: people from different backgrounds coming together to speak the same language.”