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Pacific Symphony, led by Chinese-born En Shao, delivers a “New World” with Dvořák’s famous Symphony No. 9, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (played by Dan Zhu) and Huanzhi’s “Spring Festival”
Orange County, Calif. — October 28, 2015
It’s a “New World,” when East joins hands with West for Pacific Symphony’s upcoming concert combining one of classical music’s most “American” symphonies on a program with Chinese influences, plus a little German and Czech thrown in for good measure. Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, subtitled “From the New World,” artfully melds the rich folk melodies of America with classical techniques and represents both the triumph and tragedy the Czech composer saw in American music when he visited in 1892, as well as his music’s impact on Americans. Surrounding this audience favorite are Bruch’s popular Violin Concerto No. 1, which embodies almost every desirable trait in the Romantic violin repertory. The concerto is performed by internationally acclaimed Chinese violinist Dan Zhu—praised as “an artist of affecting humility and beautiful tone production” by The Strad magazine; plus, Chinese composer Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture—a work of joyous celebration—all led by Chinese-born guest conductor, En Shao.
The Symphony’s concert, “New World,” takes place Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 12-14, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall as part of the 2015-16 Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation Classical Series. Tickets range from $25-$110. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
The distinctively American sound in Dvořák’s famous Symphony No. 9 is instantly recognizable. The symphony opens with a portentous adagio that gives way to a quick allegro, expressing the excitement of discovery and unknown frontiers. Drawing upon Indian songs and African-American spirituals, the piece manages to encapsulate the spirit of both traditions. The Czech composer’s propensity for sketching landscape in music is evident throughout and the musically illustrated “rocks, crags and rushing waters” are an evocation of the heroic landscapes by American artists such as Alberd Bierstadt, known for his sweeping vistas of the West. The subtitle for this symphony is “From the New World,” and not—as it’s often referred to—“The New World Symphony”; it was not exactly an “American” symphony, but rather a symphony “from the New World.” Dvorák was deeply inspired by American musical sources in composing it, but as a Czech nationalist and music educator, he believed strongly that composers should discover their own musical roots.
The program also spotlights Bruch, a composer whose violin music managed to include a little of everything—singing lines, passionate phrasing, extreme dynamics, overarching drama, as well as double- and triple-stops. It is music to move to. And while Bruch’s first violin concerto is by far his most popular, he was not a one-hit wonder—he wrote two other much-admired violin concertos and the beloved Scottish Fantasy. While his name may be the least familiar among composers of the herished standard-rep concertos, his Violin Concerto No. 1 is one of the most successful works in the violin repertory among audiences and players alike. Ironically, Bruch—who wrote more than 200 well-crafted pieces—resented the success of his first violin concerto, simply because it eclipsed all his other compositions and hindered both his career and finances.
Giving Bruch’s piece its due is Zhu—widely recognized as one of the finest Chinese musicians on the international stage today. Called “A rare talent!” by China Arts Journal, Zhu performs internationally in North America, Europe, and Asia. A native of Beijing, he made his first public appearance at the age of 9, performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the China Youth Chamber Orchestra. At age 12, he entered the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Four years later, Zhu was awarded the Alexis Gregory Scholarship to study with Lucie Robert at Mannes College of Music in New York. He made his Carnegie Hall debut with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto at 18, and won several prestigious international competitions, including Brussels’ Queen Elisabeth, Montréal, Sendai and the China International. A recital in Hamburg was acclaimed by Die Welt as “distinctive dramaturgy of contrasts, crystalline tones with intensity and sensitivity.”
The Symphony’s program rounds out with Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture, with its bright, energetic opening and vibrant, brilliant orchestral sound. A spirit of dance propels the cheerful principal theme of Huanzhi’s piece. It is a work of celebration, new beginnings and good-luck wishes. “Spring Festival” is actually the English translation for the Chinese term referring to the celebration more familiarly known as “Chinese New Year”—a holiday full of colorful parades with dragons snaking through the streets of Asian-American communities. Rich in symbolism, the 15-day Spring Festival is meant to promote prosperity and good fortune, and listeners of Asian ancestry may recognize Huanzhi’s musical references to centuries-old iconography of the celebration. The overture exists in versions scored exclusively for Western instruments as well as for Western orchestra plus traditional Chinese instruments. To those used to the European symphonic tradition, the opening section greatly resembles folk-infused pieces by Dvořák in both mood and effect—bringing the concert’s program full circle.
Leading the orchestra for this internationally flavored concert is En Shao, born in Tianjin, China, of whom The Mercury (United Kingdom) has said: “His direction is flawless and clearly magnetic.” Shao started to play the piano and violin at the ages of 4 and 5, respectively, and by the age of 18 was working as a composer, pianist and percussionist with a local orchestra. After graduating from the Beijing Central Conservatory, he became second principal conductor of the Chinese Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, and principal guest conductor of the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China and the National Youth Orchestra of China. Maestro Shao is currently the chief conductor of the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra, the principal guest conductor of the China National Symphony Orchestra and the music director and principal conductor of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra.
Shao was awarded the Lord Rhodes Fellowship at the Royal Northern College of Music when he came to England in 1988, and in the same year he received the first Eduard van Beinum Foundation Scholarship. As winner of the Sixth Hungarian Television International Conductor’s Competition in 1989, he conducted several performances with the Hungarian Radio Orchestra and the State Symphony Orchestra. In January 1990 he became associate conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, a post created especially for him.
The Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel; KUSC and PBS SoCal.
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