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Victorious Van Cliburn Winner to Debut with RPO

October 20, 2009

Rochester, NY – He was the youngest participant in the world-famous 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, but that didn’t stop Haochen Zhang – who turned 19 four days after the competition concluded – from walking away with the Gold Medal.  Rochester audiences will have the opportunity to hear Zhang’s skills first-hand, when he makes his debut with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday November 5 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, November 7 at 8:00 pm at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre under the skillful baton of Guest Conductor Arild Remmereit.  Mr. Remmereit hosts the First Niagara Pre-Concert Chat one hour prior to concert start.

These concerts originally were scheduled as Mr. Remmereit’s RPO conducting debut.  However, in May, Remmereit was called in as a last-minute replacement for an ailing guest conductor, making his “unscheduled” RPO debut six months early.  

The concert opens with Sparkle, a four-minute work by composer and Eastman School of Music alumnus Shafer Mahoney.  “Sparkle is a rhythmic, celebratory work,” says Mahoney in his program notes.  “The energetic and optimistic nature of this work was inspired by a rush-hour glimpse of the Chrysler Building on a sunny Manhattan morning. The incredible sparkle of the building’s metallic crown, combined with the caffeinated bustle of the city, created a vivid impression which I wanted to capture in music.” 

Haochen Zhang takes the stage with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Written in 1874-75, the piece was strongly influenced by the composer’s Russian nationalism, and incorporates two authentic Ukrainian folk melodies in the opening and closing movements.  Interestingly, the piece was given its world premiere in America, after which it was proclaimed a triumph.  The middle movement quotes a French popular song of the time, before a vigorous Finale ends the piece with a thunderous conclusion.  An interesting historical footnote about this piece: at the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1958 (with Dmitri Shostakovich as one of the judges) … “Harvey Lavan ‘Van’ Cliburn, Jr. delivered such a powerful performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 that the all-Russian judging panel had no choice but to award him first place,” (Symphony Magazine).

Zhang began studying the piano at age three, and at five, made his recital debut at the Shanghai Music Hall. His orchestral debut followed a year later with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. At 17, he became the youngest winner ever of the China International Piano Competition (2007). Zhang’s Gold Medal inaugural season was launched by summer festival debuts in Aspen and Steamboat Springs, Colorado; and in Oklahoma and New Mexico.  2009-10 engagements include the Colorado, Hartford, Jacksonville, Pacific, and San Francisco symphony orchestras, and recitals presented by Arts San Antonio; the Carolinas Concert Association; the Lied Centers of Kansas and Nebraska; La Jolla Music Society; Portland Piano International; Scottsdale Center for the Arts; and the universities of Florida and Vermont. Abroad, he will be appearing at the Beijing Music Festival and in recital in Hannover, London, and Krakow. The 2009 Van Cliburn top prize was a tie between Zhang and Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, the first time a tie was awarded since 2001.

The concert’s second half features Prokofiev’s 1944 Symphony No. 5, a work of great power, sparkling wit, and wide emotional range.  After a hiatus of 16 years, the composer returned to the genre of the symphony. “I thought of the Fifth as a work glorifying the human spirit,” said Prokofiev himself. “I wanted to sing of man free and happy, his strength, his generosity, and the purity of his soul. I cannot say that I chose this theme; it was innate in me and had to be expressed.”  Prokofiev himself conducted the first performance in Moscow on January 13, 1945. The symphony’s immediate popularity sprang in part from its representing precisely what Soviet audiences needed: a hopeful vision of better times after six years of horrific conflict.

Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit is regarded for his focus and poise on the podium. Debuting on short notice with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 2005, he garnered the attention of the New York Times, which wrote, “He came, he conducted, he conquered… Sensational.”  Since then, he has made critically acclaimed debuts with the Baltimore Symphony, Milan’s Filarmonica della Scala, the Vienna Symphony and the Munich Philharmonic. In North America, Mr. Remmereit has conducted a number of other major orchestras including the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa), and the symphony orchestras of Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, New Jersey, Utah, Milwaukee, and Seattle.  In Europe, he has worked with the Oslo, Bergen, Stockholm, and Royal philharmonic orchestras; in 2007-08, he also made his debut at the storied Teatro alla Scala and, more recently, led Florence’s Orchestra del Maggio Musicale. In Asia, he has conducted the Seoul Philharmonic and appeared with the Tokyo Philharmonic, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Malaysian Philharmonic, and the KBS Symphony, also in Seoul. 

Tickets for these performances are $20-$75, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org; by phone (454-2100); in-person from the RPO Box Office, 108 East Avenue, 10:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday-Saturday (non-concert Saturdays, 10:00 am -3:00 pm); and seven days a week at area Wegmans.  A convenience fee may apply.  The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb.  Mr. Zhang's performance is made possible by the Alfred Davis and Brunhilde Knapp Artists Performance Fund.

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