ORIE M.Eng. Student Yiran Wang Performs in "Schoenberg's Playlist"
Yiran Wang, an ORIE Master of Engineering student concentrating in financial engineering, joined his teacher Professor Xak Bjerken in a performance of Maurice Ravel's two-piano arrangement of Claude Debussy's nocturne "Fêtes" ("Festivals"), at a Cornell music festival called "Schoenberg's Playlist." All the other festival performers were professional musicians, music faculty, and full-time music students. Although Wang is not headed for a musical profession, music is "more than a hobby," for which he hopes to continue to find time while he completes his M. Eng. and undertakes a career in finance.
Wang, who is from Beijing and is a graduate of Tsinghua University there, began studying with Bjerken during his second semester as a Master of Engineering student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell. Although he completed that M.Eng. degree, he decided that his particular interest in "applicable science" would be best satisfied in financial engineering, with its combination of math, computer science, and financial know-how. So he applied for and was admitted to a second M. Eng. program, in financial engineering, which also permitted him to continue as one of the highly selected twelve students in Bjerken's studio.
"Yiran is one of my strongest students in the last ten years," says Professor Bjerken, who organized the concert series. "He has an unusual combination of a 'sensitive soul,' an ear for the poetry of sounds, and many, many years of strong technical background from his childhood training in China. He is very much on a professional level as a musician," continued Bjerken, himself a student of the renowned pianist Leon Fleisher (who recently played in Beijing and will perform all five Beethoven piano concertos at Cornell this spring).
Playing the piano "has granted me a chance to slow down a bit and think about what is going on in my life," said Wang. "I like spending time in the practice room alone. Playing there makes me feel like I am the only person in the world." Somehow he finds sufficient time for his studies. "Yiran is doing extremely well in the program, and we are delighted that he is able do so while maintaining his musical interests at such a high level," said M.Eng. program director Kathryn Caggiano.
The "Schoenberg's Playlist" festival centered on the music of a group of composers and musicians in Vienna after World War I, the "Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen in Wien" ("Viennese Society for Private Musical Performances"). Members of the society put on concerts for each other, in part to enable their "new music" and that of others (such as Debussy) to be heard repeatedly while shielding the avant-garde composer members from traditionally-oriented Viennese critics and concert-goers.
In putting on private concerts and insisting on "appropriate acoustical, ideological and technical conditions," according to program notes by Cornell musicologist Roger Moseley, "Schoenberg and his collaborators were striving for an ideal that would eventually be realized through the technology of hi-fi, and even the potential for solitary, repetitive contemplation afforded to the beheadphoned iPod listener."
Further interpreting the "Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen in Wien" in contemporary terms, Professor Moseley created a diagram showing it as a social network. The diagram, which shows relationships among many of the prominent musicians associated with Schoenberg's society, was included in the festival program and is reprinted below with permission.