Beethoven’s Captivating Third Piano Concerto Shines in the Hands of Zhang Zuo; Plus, Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”

Carnegie HallTwo young highly accomplished Asian artists give new dimension to a stimulating program that fuses East and West sensibilities. The imaginative and electrifying performer, Chinese pianist Zhang Zuo, makes her Pacific Symphony debut performing Beethoven’s transcendent Third Piano Concerto in this concert led by Singapore’s pre-eminent conductor, Darrell Ang. The Los Angeles Times calls the gifted young pianist (nicknamed “Zee Zee”) “a powerful, passionate and compelling representation of pure artistry”; and SudOuest (France) wrote of Ang: “Irresistible... Darrell Ang’s star is on the ascent!” The concert opens with the mesmerizing “Folk Songs for Orchestra” by Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo, while Elgar’s intriguing “Enigma Variations” provides a memorable closure to the program.

Carl St.Clair and Philip Glass take the stage“To say that Ang grabbed both horns of the bull, like a young Leonard Bernstein in 1943 …would be an understatement, and the chorus of bravos that greeted the magnificent performance was well earned. A star is born.”—The Straits Times (Singapore)

The concert takes place Thursday through Saturday, March 23-25, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Image magnification on the big screen throughout the evening offers a closer look at Zuo’s intricate handwork, Ang’s skill on the podium, and the Symphony musicians in all their glory. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$125 (Box Circle, $195). For more information or to purchase tickets call (714) 755-5799 or CLICK HERE.

Pacific Symphony and Pacific ChoraleDescribed as “full of enthusiasm and glamour, radiating the vigor of youth” by Chinese Gramophone, young impresario Zuo’s interpretations and communicative abilities have been praised by Belgischer Rundfunk as “taking us to another reality…bright, expressive and moving to the extreme."

For Pacific Symphony’s concert, Zuo performs Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, a work that sent the composer steering onto a new path in concerto writing. The music has an unusual depth of emotion and drama. This was Beethoven’s first piano concerto in a minor key (C minor), and it shifts direction from its predecessors in that there is less attention to formal elegance and decorative ornamentation of line, and more emphasis on sheer expressiveness. The interaction between soloist and orchestra is also more intricate than in previous concertos, the dynamics have more contrast and the emotions are more turbulent. The overall impression is deeply passionate.

As for Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” the composer was just 40 when he wrote what became his most famous orchestral work comprising 14 variations on an original (and mysterious) theme. The story behind the work is that Elgar, returning home from giving violin lessons, sat down at the piano and began improvising. His wife remarked on the tune and Elgar responded by suggesting how certain friends of theirs might play it. Out of that minor exchange grew the idea of the “Enigma Variations,” the work that finally secured Elgar’s reputation as a great composer of international standing. It remains one of the most popular works in the classical repertoire.

Rounding out the program is a work by Chinese composer Huang Ruo, “Folk Songs for Orchestra.” Ruo has been lauded by The New Yorker as “one of the world’s leading young composers” and by The New York Times for having “a distinctive style.” His vibrant and inventive musical voice draws equal inspiration from Chinese ancient and folk music, Western avant-garde, experimental, noise, natural and processed sound, rock and jazz. As a member of the new generation of Chinese composers, Ruo’s goal is not to just mix both Western and Eastern elements, but also to create a seamless, organic integration. But if the sound is new, the spirit in Ruo’s “Folk Song Suite” is also ancient and universal, demonstrating a sense of narrative that has inhered in songs from every culture and time.