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Kids Rock With the OCS

By Michael Buss, 2013-08-31

It’s natural talent; some people would call it a gift. But wherever it comes from there is no doubt that some children possess the most extraordinary ability to sing, dance and play instruments - and at such a level of excellence that we can hardly believe it possible. A mere hour watching clips from talent shows on YouTube will soon have you, as well as the judges of these shows, in tears. Perhaps people are most naturally drawn to the singers; but the instrumentalists are, in many respects all the more remarkable.

The three young people who crossed the stage at Servite auditorium to play piano concertos with the backing of the Orange County Symphony, under director Dr. David Rentz, for the opening concert of the OCS season brought such live talent right here to Anaheim. Did you miss it?

People came out of the concert with mouths open in awe at the sheer brilliance of these kids.

Now let’s back up a little and set the scene. Each year there is a piano competition held by the California Association of Professional Music Teachers. Naturally the entrants are assigned categories by age. The winners of three of those categories came to play for us.

They had to wait until the orchestra had first played Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. But this was no chore, for the summer months have seen some changes to the line-up. The squeaky violins, as I used to call them, had all been bid farewell. The front row of the violins was held in tight control with Concertmaster SeungJai Chung in his traditional seat and anchored at the other end of the row by the brilliant Wan-Chin Chang. We were able to relax knowing that the strings were now solid. This is a renewed orchestra.

Further down the program the orchestra played From the Steppes of Central Asia by Borodin. You may best recognize Borodin’s Polovetsian Dance – well you would if you heard it. The Steppes is that great, expansive land mass extending west from Mongolia to the Ukraine. As David Rentz lead his orchestra on a journey across those empty lands you felt the openness, the huge skies, in the music. And since travelers of old traversed these lands by horseback you could hear the clop-clopping of the hooves in the music. It was a beautiful musical travelogue with such familiar Borodinian characteristics that we wondered whether the music might suddenly break into a dance.

But did we not come for the pianists? Partly, yes. Their family and friends were there in force.

 

A tall wisp of a girl with long black curls hanging down over a peach colored gown walked on with Dr. Rentz. A shy smile to the audience, an unpracticed bow, and she took her place at the keyboard, back totally straight, long arms extending right into her long fingers. This is Emily Uh, aged 11, from Irvine. And she will play the first movement from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. No sheet music, mark you. No professional soloist has the score on the piano. I could not help but notice Emily’s amazing finger flexibility, her high lift and agility over the keys. Composers like to take their soloists on a fast workout – fast arpeggios up and down the keyboard. Emily never missed a beat of Beethoven’s work; the chords well struck, the pedal work so perfect. And I suspect she had never yet, until this occasion , played this piece with a full orchestra. Then the clapping, and the shy bows, but the nervousness now gone with the piece complete.

 

Fourteen year old Derek Chao had had three more years than Emily to get used to bowing to audiences and settling at the piano. But come on, he’s still only a ninth grader! You look at his bio and see he speaks fluent Mandarin, reads avidly, enjoys computer games and plays basketball. And he plays piano like a pro. His assignment – Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2, first movement. Once again, the composer makes the soloist work for the privilege of being in the spotlight. He contrives runs up and down the keyboard more complex that Beethoven, with chords more modern and moody. Derek has developed the power in his hands and arms to strike the keys more forcefully than Emily. He is impeccable. And soaks up the applause once more when he is finished. It is a polished performance.

We jump up quite a way in years to get to 22 year old Primo Cervantes. I think he had been freshly fitted out with new shirt and dress suit for the occasion and was not quite used to the shirt cuffs. Tall, handsome, able to break from a straight look into a huge smile with a dazzling array of white teeth, he took a while getting the stool, his jacket, his cuffs, everything, just right. He was after all going to play the Rach 2. (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2) “The now-familiar opening of the first movement was unusual for its time, with the piano alone, alternating pianissimo chords and deep, bell-like bass tones. Soon, however, the piano recedes while the orchestra introduces the unforgettable first theme.” (From the Program notes.)  This is Rachmaninoff, and this music is furious, fast complicated. That’s what audiences love.  Did he disappoint? Not for one millisecond. His power is even great than Derek’s. As you watch the posture, the hands the fingers of these pianists you realize they all have slightly different physical characteristics. It always amazed me that Daniel Barenboim with his shorter pudgy fingers could play the piano at all! But each soloist has his or her own style. For his part Primo graduated from OCHSA and received the Most Promising Musician Award.

Yes, like the other two, music will be his life and the world will be the richer because of that.

Please take a moment to read about these three winners, here, on the OCS website.

At one point in the program all the winners from the piano competition came up on stage with mentor and piano soloist Minji Noh, already beloved by OCS fans, who presented them all to the audience.

This concert was a magnificent start to what promises to be a great season. The Symphony is going places. It has big plans for outreach with elementary school kids. See this news article on this.

So whether we hear the full symphony with David Rentz (right), or the wind symphony with Tony Mazzaferro we know we know that live classical music is going strong in Orange County.

Lastly, let me recommend the OCS website to you. This site now has the ability to post their Guest Notes and Program Notes online, as well as all their other press releases and monthly letters. The NEWS section carries all the notes, of any kind. Concerts that are past are may be referenced under the SEASON AT A GLANCE feature.  Read the bios of the conductors, find the names of the ensemble players. It’s all here, a growing and invaluable resource for music pundits. A little exploration will be rewarding.

The concert photographs were taken by Renee Stewart Jackson. She is a very remarkable photographic artist. You may contact her through her website and online gallery.


Photos: Renee Stewart Jackson

 

 

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