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Pacific Symphony explores intricate mastery of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, played by Haochen Zhang, and the brilliance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, led by Rossen Milanov

Orange County, Calif. — October 16, 2014

From turbulent, agitated and ominous to lyrical and tender—it’s a passionate journey the audience won’t soon forget when Pacific Symphony and guest pianist Haochen Zhang deliver Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in all its glory. Following Zhang’s BBC Proms debut, The Telegraph (United Kingdom) called the international piano sensation “one of those hot young Chinese virtuosi everyone’s talking about.” Led by Bulgarian-born guest conductor Rossen Milanov, the orchestra then performs a work by Brahms, as the composer steps out of Beethoven’s shadow with his rich, ingenious Second Symphony. The cheery and almost pastoral mood of the piece often invites comparisons with Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Rounding out the versatile program is Thomas Adès’ “Three Studies from Couperin,” of which The Jerusalem Post wrote: “Such a combination of enchanting, sensitive lyricism and hypnotizing forcefulness is a phenomenon encountered very rarely.”

Taking place Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 13-15, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, “Mozart & Brahms” continues the 2014-15 Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation Classical Series. Tickets for this concert are $25-$99. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit PacificSymphony.org.

“I view the three composers on the program as peers who could have a lot to discuss with each other, should they be invited to dine at the same dinner table,” says Maestro Milanov. “The new air of Romanticism certainly prevails in Mozart’s D Minor Concerto, while the abundance of melodic beauty in Brahms Symphony No. 2 connects well with Mozart’s ideal of building a symphonic structure. And the work of Tomas Adès looks at the past through the eyes of a curator in a modern art museum, creating parallels and interesting juxtapositions.”

“Milanov masterfully framed the piece with a traditional sense of pacing, light and shade, tension and release, beginning and end that drew you so much into this idiosyncratic world that you no longer needed to probe it for logic. It effectively seeped into your consciousness.… You couldn’t hope for a more inviting performance”—Philadelphia Inquirer.

“This will be the first time I am leading Pacific Symphony,” says Milanov. “I am looking forward to meeting the musicians. The concert hall has an excellent reputation and I am excited to see how it frames the music being performed there—so there is a lot to look forward to.”

“Mozart’s music is always very special to me, especially its delicacy and intimacy as well as its simplicity,” says pianist Zhang. “And this music has an unusual darkness and dramatic intensity that is more present and symbolic in the works of Beethoven—another composer I feel very closely associated with, despite of their seemingly extreme differences. I hope this opposing duality is what the audience would feel and appreciate in my interpretation of this very unique piece.” 

In the hands of Zhang, winner of the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition (and also the youngest contestant), Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in D Minor for Piano and Orchestra, K. 466, is a deeply felt, intricately woven, brooding but in the end exultant masterpiece. Nineteenth-century audiences and composers were wild about this concerto—mainly because it was regarded as Beethovenish. No praise was considered higher at the time. Indeed, K. 466 was a favorite of the “Titan” himself and figured prominently in Beethoven’s repertoire as a concert pianist. He even wrote cadenzas for it, since Mozart had not supplied any himself. Today, it stands in somewhat lonesome splendor alongside Mozart’s only other minor-key piano concerto.

Brahms, who was born in 1833, is considered to be both a traditionalist and an innovator; someone who wrote compositions heavily rooted in the Classical and Baroque styles. He spent much of his professional career in Vienna and had a deep understanding of the musical interconnection between harmony and rhythm. He composed numerous works for chamber ensembles, symphony orchestras, piano and for voice and chorus before his death in 1897. His symphonic structure. And the work of Tomas Adès looks at the past through the eyes of a curator in a modern art music, creating parallels and interesting juxtapositions. Symphony No. 2 calls for considerable musical strengths, including a seamless string ensemble, tonal elegance, expressive detailing and unbridled brilliance—all coming together in a commanding performance of fire and nobility. Composed by Brahms in the summer of 1877, its composition was brief in comparison with the 15 years it took the composer to complete his First Symphony.

Thomas Adès is one of today’s most formidable musical talents, who—not unlike Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven—is equally at home composing, conducting or performing his own music and that of others at the keyboard. For all the piano repertoire he plays—his recordings range from Schubert’s jolly “Trout” Quintet to arrangements of Nancarrow’s superhuman player-piano compositions—there is one composer whose music is never far from Adès’ home piano: François Couperin.

“Couperin the Great” (1668–1733) was the most accomplished member of one of France’s legendary musical families. He served as Louis XIV’s organist and court composer and wrote music whose opulence was on par with the ornate Rococo style blossoming in France’s art and architecture. His most famous compositions are four volumes of harpsichord studies, each edition packed with highly ornamented melodies under descriptive titles. In “Three Studies from Couperin,” composed in 2006, Adès extracts three movements from those harpsichord works. The first movement, Les Amusemens (Amusements), captures the hazy shimmer of Couperin’s ornate texture. By contrast, Les Tours de passe-passe (Sleight of Hand) is full of bright plucks and swells, punctuated by rhythmic hiccups. Following its punchy conclusion, the next movement enters with a minor-key gravitas fitting its title, L’Ame-en-peine (The Soul in Torment). The work ends with dark, sonorous and solemn themes.

Since his gold medal win at the Van Cliburn Competition, 24-year-old Chinese pianist Zhang has captivated audiences in the United States, Europe and Asia with a unique combination of deep musical sensitivity, fearless imagination and spectacular virtuosity. His return to Fort Worth as part of the Cliburn Concerts series was lauded by the Dallas Morning News as “the kind of program you’d expect from a seasoned master, served up with dazzling virtuosity where wanted and astonishing sophistication elsewhere” and hailed among the top 10 performances of 2010 by both the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. His Boston debut under the auspices of the Celebrity Series met with high praise by audiences and critics, making the year-end lists as part of the Boston Phoenix’s top 10 classical music stories of the year.

The Boston Globe remarked that Zhang displayed “poetic temperament as much as technical power… [he is] a pianist with ample reserves of power whose imagination seems nonetheless most kindled by subtle delicacy.” 

Milanov is the music director designate of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Princeton Symphony and principal conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias (OSPA) in Spain, as well as Music Director of the nationally recognized training orchestra Symphony in C in New Jersey. He has established himself as a conductor with a considerable international presence, performing for major orchestras across the globe. He has also collaborated with some of the world’s preeminent artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell and Midori, as well as with internationally esteemed vocalists. Noted for his versatility, Milanov is also a well-known figure in the worlds of opera and ballet. He was named Bulgaria’s Musician of the Year in 2005, was among the top 100 most influential people in New Jersey in 2014 and won an ASCAP award in 2011.

The Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from Mercedes-Benz, the official vehicle, the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The concert on Thursday, Nov. 13, is being sponsored by Mrs. and Mr. William Wang.