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Compelling “East Meets West”

Orange County
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
03/23/2017 -  & 24, 25 March 2017
Huang Ruo: Folk Songs for Orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto n° 3 in C minor, opus 37
Sir Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations, opus 36

Zhang Zuo (Piano)
Pacific Symphony, Paul Manaster (Associate Concertmaster), Darrell Ang (Conductor)

D. Ang (© Christine Bush)

Bridging Eastern and Western civilizations entails great efforts of massaging vastly different mores and cultural landscapes. Thankfully, the power of music paves way for diplomatic and humane resolve, especially when headed up by Singapore-native and Pacific Symphony guest conductor, Darrell Ang. In an evening of eclectic proportion, Mr. Ang’s programming introduces the Pacific Rim with lovely nuances through perspectives of pianist and composer, both hailing from China. Meanwhile, we have a modicum of balance and an evening infused with spontaneity and sparkle with music representing the United Kingdom and Germany.

Composer Huang Ruo had been momentously received in The United States when his opera, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, premiered at Santa Fe Opera in 2014. Folk Songs for Orchestra, outlined as the evening’s first selection, finds the composer burying himself inside three of China’s most beloved “Love Songs.” The emotional verve depicting these folkloric pieces are far ranging: the opening “Flower Drum Song” (from Feng Yang) with a Copeland-like stylization carries over into a frenetic scherzo-driven “Love Song” gleaned from Kang Ding. But the closing arguments shift back to the American Wild West and peels of Vaughan Williams which begin and end with a passionate rambunctiousness. Mr. Ruo’s whipped recipe of articulation and frothy Asian élan bears percussive exclamation points.

Z. Zuo (© Marco Borggreve)

This evening’s concert is made more fluid by use of image magnification, an enhancement favoring the talents of a reserved 28 year old Zhang Zuo, better known “Zee Zee” in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto n° 3. Similar in scope to Huang Ruo’s anthropological “cross-pollination” fixations, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto n° 3 links that of a more Classical concerto equilibrium to an increasingly revolutionary vocabulary. Beethoven places heavier emphasis on the pianist’s own expression which is suitably aligned with Zee Zee. Nothing is rushed or assumed within her own interpretation. Ms. Zuo encapsulates the notes with a fervent belief that it’s the most important event in her life: she plays with thought, she plays with soul… the purpose has meaningful tension. The keyboard dominates a good portion of the “Largo”, and it’s here where we discover a politely unfiltered verismo. Her coloring and shading is intensely organic, yet there’s rawness of electrified purity. Zee Zee unequivocally guides the tempo, never hesitating to search deep within her heart. She’s remarkably refined and stated with an understated elegance.

To this date, Elgar’s Enigma Variations continues on a course of shrouded secrecy. Just because all the answers are not within reach doesn’t mean the composition doesn’t evoke an impressive response. We have that sort of case-building by the Pacific Symphony. The “guessing” inside Sir Edward Elgar’s opus is gently set aside in order for musicians to pay homage, many of them granted solos directly or indirectly. This rendition is well-articulated both in pacing and on the dynamic front. Particularly polished is John Acevedo’s viola transcription inside Variation X (“Dorabella – Intermezzo” Allegretto) and Variation XIV (“E.D.U.” – Finale.)

In today’s age, there exists a stronger need for higher tolerance, better understanding and unbiased acceptance of people from all nationalities. Music is the path that resolves bitterness and within this Pacific Symphony performance we have such civility.

Christie Grimstad



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