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These Kids 'Rock' On The Piano

By Michael Buss, 2014-09-29

The Orange County Symphony, conducted by Dr. David Rentz, opened its 2014-15 season on Sunday night (Sept 28th) with a dazzling array of young pianists in the lead roles.

Left: Concertmaster Seunjai Chung tunes his violin.

Presenting the winners of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT) Annual Concerto Competition was such a success last year that the audience was eager for the repeat. It is remarkable beyond words that such extraordinary musical gifts can reside in people so young. Of course, we all know that that there are child prodigies, but to see them perform is always stunning.

With the piano center stage the conductor was somewhat hidden from view but not to the extent that you could not see him and the soloists catch each other’s eyes at the crucial points when orchestra and pianist needed most to co-ordinate.

The evening opened with Beethoven’s overture to The Consecration of the House – a mostly unfamiliar piece. The soft, slow opening seemed to show up some nervousness in the orchestra, and the bassoons got unfortunately buried in the swell as the music picked up and the players found their stride. So much attention would later be riveted on the soloists that is it best to remark here that the orchestra was, for the entire evening, extremely good. One regular told me that when he closed his eyes and just listened he could tell no difference between this and any performance by the Pacific Symphony under the baton of Carl St. Clair!

With Felix Mendelssohn’s buoyant Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor came soloist No. 1 – Elizabeth Zietz, a 9th grader at Northwood High School. A slender girl with flowing black hair and red evening gown she showed complete command at the keyboard. Sometimes bending low watching her fingers ripple up and down the arpeggios, sometimes swaying back, eyes closed, she charmed her audience with her performance.

There being no obvious place to hand over the piano duties to another player there came the switch when Elizabeth left the stage while the orchestra played and 12 year old Victor Shlyakhtenko took command. And take command, he did! He may even have had the harder shift. With white shirt and black bowtie he showed no hesitation with the flourishes and complexities of the music. Occasionally a slight, relaxed smile would spread across his face, only to be picked up and returned by the ever attentive David Rentz.

Victor and Elizabeth receive applause

The intermission brings its usual hubbub of photographs in the foyer, glasses of wine for those needing lubrication, and opportunity drawing tickets managed as usual with great care by the Key Clubbers. In fact it was appropriate on this occasion that Mike Anderson and Dorothy Rose presented certificates of recognition to Frank Barry (Key Club organizer) for his many years of service to the kids and the nonprofits of Anaheim, Naturally Shirley McCracken was also called out for applause. And in another very fine touch, the OCS also invited onto the stage Chris Sarkissian, owner of Pepz Pizza who over the years has provided the orchestra with pizza on their arrival at the theatre.

Come the second part of the evening and the conductor presented Wan-Chin Chang, piano, to play the Cesar Frank Symphonic Variations.  Wan Chin usually sits with the first violins, but it should be noted that she is equally at home on the piano. Considering that she is Doctor of Musical Arts from USC and teaches in many fine arts schools, including Soka University, it was a delight to watch her perform. Her long, peach colored gown perfectly toned in with the stage backdrop!

Before the final piece of the evening Dr. Minji Noh, no stranger on the piano with the OCS, joined David Rentz to give an overview of the Concerto Competition and present the awards. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, small figures appeared out of the audience – pianists all- to receive their trophies. Have no doubt, the future of classical piano is in good hands!

Just some of the prize winners with Dr. Minji Noh. Mike Anderson (President) and Dorothy Rose (Exec Director) stand behind, watching.

Emily Wang performed the last concerto piece of the evening – the well known Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg. As soon as Emily played the first four chords everyone in the Servite auditorium knew they were in for a treat. They were not disappointed. She is currently a senior at Troy with a broad range of interests. Very tall, with a midnight blue gown, she displayed total mastery in every way. We had been prepared by Dr. Rentz to expect a long cadenza (when the pianist plays without orchestra, and can put all their own individuality into the interpretation) and therefore scrutinized every nuance, every extra legato effect, every joyous romp up and down the keys, until you saw the orchestra slowly get their instruments ready to pitch in for the final triumphant conclusion.

People were going home very happy.



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