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Jean Oelrich
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Double Debut: Internationally Acclaimed Chinese Pianist Xiayin Wang Joins Pacific Symphony To Play Gershwin's Concerto In F Led By Estonian Anu Tali

Orange County, Calif. — November 01, 2017

Performing with Pacific Symphony for the first time is international sensation, Chinese pianist Xiayin Wang, whose sublime talent gives fresh, dynamic energy to Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Considered an artist of keen musicality and sweeping virtuosity, Wang brings audiences to their feet with her riveting playing. The Washington Post called her playing “precise and strong,” her drive “unrelenting” and her concentration “intense.” Considered Gershwin’s most classical piece, the Concerto in F represents the ideal blend of the rhythmic liberty of jazz fused with classical roots. And, making her debut on the Symphony’s podium is outstanding Estonian Conductor Anu Tali, one of the most intriguing young conductors on the scene today.

Tali, who leads both the Sarasota and Nordic Symphony Orchestras, serves as guest conductor for this program, which also features Smetana’s enchanting “The Moldau” and Dvořák’s dramatic Symphony No. 7. Plus, the audience is treated to image magnification projected on large screens for an up-close look at the artists. The program takes place Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $25-$126; Box Circle, $196-$206. 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.

To open this program is the symphonic poem, “The Moldau,” a vivid landscape evoking the river Moldau by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana (colleague of fellow countryman, Antonín Dvořák and widely regarded as the father of Czech music) in which listeners find themselves in the boat with a painter’s eye view. The piece begins at the springs of the mighty Moldau river and travels through the backwaters of Prague, the main current and rapids, through woods, fields and meadows, where peasants dance at a wedding. The melodies are flowing and folksy.

“Many persons had thought that the Rhapsody [in Blue] was only a happy accident,” George Gershwin once said. “Well, I went out, for one thing, to show them that there was plenty more where that had come from.” That “plenty more” was found in his Concerto in F, which uniquely combines the structure of a typical piano concerto with elements of rhythm and harmony derived from popular music and jazz. 

As a Broadway composer, Gershwin had hit after hit, earning him a fortune unheard of in the classical music world. Yet, he was determined to write “serious music” that put one foot outside of the popular realm and into the classical arena. In Gershwin’s view, the two worlds of popular and classical music were not mutually exclusive, and he would gain his greatest personal satisfaction by composing music that appealed to audiences in both spheres. But upon entering new territory, Gershwin asked Ravel and Stravinsky for orchestration and composition lessons. 

Ravel reportedly replied, “Why be a second-rate Ravel when you are a first-rate Gershwin?” In fact, Gershwin’s influence can be heard in Ravel’s own piano concertos. Stravinsky noted that Gershwin made so much money that perhaps he should give him lessons instead. 

Fusing European sensibilities with the freedom, rhythmic thrill and improvisational bluster of jazz, Gershwin’s Concerto in F still has the broad-ranging appeal of American popular musical theater. His work represented a major leap toward the creation of a distinctively new classical tradition, one that was furthered by the Europeans Stravinsky and Milhaud, and Americans Copland and Bernstein. Yet, the true significance of Gershwin’s achievement was not fully recognized in his lifetime. His premature death at 38 left the public stunned and was an enormous loss to American music; few composers were as widely loved as Gershwin. The world was left to wonder what might have been achieved in classical music had he lived longer.

In April 1884, at the same time that Dvořák was struck by two tragedies—the death of his mother and the mental decline and commitment of his friend, Smetana—he received a major honor. The prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society (which had commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth) asked for a symphony from Dvořák. It would be the only symphony of his to be written as a commission. It sent Dvořák into a spin, as he set feverishly to work in December 1884, completing Symphony No. 7 in March 1885. 

Dvořák wrote, “I am now busy with the new Symphony (for London) and wherever I go I have no thought for anything but my work, which must be such as to move the world—well, God grant that it may be so!”

Much of Dvořák’s music is known for its folk theme-filled melodies and bright quality. The Seventh Symphony is a departure from this style, darker and less cheery (unofficially referred to as Dvořák’s “tragic” symphony), and containing less folk material than his earlier works. While it still contains Slavic elements, they are less prominent than in his earlier compositions, for which he had gained his reputation.

His Seventh was originally published as Symphony No. 2, but was his seventh symphony written, the second published. All of Dvořák’s symphonies were later renumbered based on chronology of composition, not publication order. With his Seventh, Dvořák had successfully accomplished his goal of composing in a style that was appealing internationally, and in the process, rose to the top of the classical world.

Pacific Symphony’s Classical Series is made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from The Westin South Coast Plaza, KUSC and PBS SoCal.