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We All Love Musical Brilliance

By Michael Buss, 2015-08-31

This may be significant. On Saturday night Pearson Park Amphitheatre resounded to the music of three very good local teen bands. I estimate the crowd to be between 250-300 strong.

On Sunday night at the Anaheim Performing Arts Center at Servite, about 500 people turned out to hear four teenagers play either solo violin or piano accompanied by the Orange County Symphony (OCS) Orchestra. The mix of young and older people was much the same at both events.

Whatever the reasons, we can say this – classical music is not a thing of the past. The crowds say so!

And so to the details. The OCS has now established a tradition – to bring brilliant young musicians to perform at the season’s opening concert. They are some of the winners from the 2015 CAPMT VIII-Joint Chamber Music Concerto Competition. Our own Maestro, Dr. David Rentz, is one of the adjudicators. All those acronyms! CAPMT means California Association of Professional Music Teachers.

Let’s introduce the concerto winners. First on stage is the pony-tailed 14 year old Amber Correa, looking tall in her shimmering wine colored gown. In her left hand dangles a violin. She tackles the first movement from Symphonie Espagnole by Edouard Lalo. The hook to this piece is simple and striking making the music very easy for the listener to follow. A couple of horsehairs snap as she plays, but this is only a minor inconvenience. Sometimes she bends at the knees and straightens as if to push extra power into the bow. Calm, confident, she comes to an end and finally smiles as she acknowledges the applause. Teacher Deborah Kim is so proud of her student!

There is a break as the grand piano is pushed into place. Before our next soloist comes on stage Maestro Rentz makes a small adjustment to the position of the piano. Just an inch, maybe – but now it’s perfect. We laugh. There needs to be good eye to eye communication between soloist and conductor, and who wants the lid to be in the way?

Enter Yoko Nagafuchi who will play the allegro maestoso (quick-ish) movement from Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Yoko looks elegant in her peach gown and sits at the piano, upright, relaxed. The piece begins with a lot of strong orchestra, enough to drown a piano, but as we get ready for the soloist Chopin reins in the power of the music having the orchestra almost step aside for her to play. There are a lot of notes at the top end of the keyboard that almost shoot off into space on ledger lines above the treble clef. Hats off to anyone who can read those and know what they are! No such problem for Yoko whose fingers scintillate in lightening fast riffs over the high notes. She comes to a slower mid-range section where we can detect the individual accent the pianist can put into the timing of the music, and admire her finesse. Finally, orchestra and piano together strike the last chord of the movement and she is done. Stands up. Takes a bow. The audience loves her.

Yet another break, of course, then we are back with Kevin Zhu who has been playing piano since he was four. He wears a suit and sits immobile waiting to spring into action. His face is impassive, though he bends forward into the keyboard from time to time. His assignment is Beethoven, Piano Concerto No 3. In a fast, spirited fashion. The composer loves the interplay between piano and orchestra so the melody gets moved around the sections and many of us realize we have heard this before.

This has always puzzled me: what does the soloist do – or think about – when he is waiting his turn to play? From Kevin’s face you would never know. Probably total concentration ready for his next note.  Then he’s done. He suddenly stands and faces us. We clap. He walks off, then returns almost as though David Rentz chased him and said “Hey, come back. They want to clap some more” – which, of course, we did.

Presentations. Before our last soloist of the evening our friend and concert pianist Dr. Minji Noh with Dr. Gottlieb present awards to all the CAPTM winners – not all of whom are able to be present. The youngest, whose name I did not catch (Kyle Yeung?), looks so tiny you wonder if ever his feet could reach the pedals.

Our final soloist is Thompson Wang, a 14 year old violist from Santa Monica. He loves basket ball; but tonight it’s about Mendelssohn – his Violin Concerto in E Minor. His fingering never misses; his double stringing is raunchy; his high notes are crystal clear. And I think he has a soft violin. But emotional. One day I would like to hear him on an amplified electric glass violin. I think he’d enjoy it. But back to the performance. Quick glances from Thompson to Dr. Rentz and back keep the whole performance perfectly synchronized. If I’m not mistaken he gets the loudest applause of the night.

And then it’s all over. But not the fascination we all have with genius kid musicians. Many musicians develop their accomplishments, honing their skills, over many years. Other like these young people tonight, just seems to have it from the get-go. This is not to suggest they don’t need tuition and practice, but they get it so fast that all of us are amazed.

Thank You to all the wonderful California Music Teachers, and parents, and schools, and fellow musicians, and audiences for raising these remarkably talented children. As Minji Noh reminded us – it takes a village to accomplish this.

Thank you Orange County Symphony.



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