Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ray Chen and Zhang Zuo at People’s Symphony Concerts

This weekend, Your Correspondent dutifully went to Town Hall in New York for another in what has proven to be a stellar season of People’s Symphony Concerts.  Originally scheduled was violinist Augustin Hadelich (born 1984), whom we have covered previously in these pages.  Hadelich is one of the up-and-coming stars of the classical music world, and we were initially disappointed when we learned a scheduling conflict prevented his appearance.

However, we were more than delighted when the incomparable violinist Ray Chen (born 1989) took his place, with pianist Zhang Zuo (born 1988) accompanying him.  The result was magic – one of the finest concerts we have seen in some time.  It is rare that the seen-it-all crowd at PSC applauds between movements, but the demonstrative audience this past Sunday could not contain itself.  Chen played with such charm and insouciance, and his bowmanship was so exciting and sure-handed, that anything short of adulation would be unworthy.

The concert opened with the Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 12, No. 1 by Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827).  The playing was robust and passionate, and the sound of Chen’s violin – he was playing the 1715 Joachim Stradivarius on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation – has a clarity that was uncanny. 

Both players were transcendent in the Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75 by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921).  The interval between movements was interrupted by unprecedented applause and, I’m sure if roses were on hand, they would’ve been happily tossed at the players.  The first act ended with the crowd on its feet and waiting for more.

Following the intermission, Chen and Zuo (nick-named “Zee Zee”) played a medley of songs by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946).  Though sprightly and fun, they were a step down in complexity and interest from Beethoven and Saint-Saens.  The duo returned to Saint-Saens for the Havanaise in E Major, Op. 83, which had a delicious Cuban feel.  The concert ended with Tzigane by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), which had a wonderful, Romanie feel. 

The audience would not let them leave without an encore, and Chen and Zuo served up a wrenchingly beautiful Thais by Massenet

Zuo has recently been chosen to join the BBC’s flagship Young Artist program in the UK for the next two seasons.  She has played with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Orchestra of Belgium.  Dressed in a stunning evening gown of fuchsia, Zuo is a striking presence and gifted accompanist.

The performance, though, rested confidently in the assured palm of violinist Ray Chen.  Born in Taiwan and raised in Australia, Chen was accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music at age 15,  where he studied with Aaron Rosand and was supported by Young Concerts Artists.  An emerging social media star, Chen is the first-ever classical musician to be invited to write a regular blog about his life as a touring soloist for the largest Italian publishing house, RCS Rizzoli.  He cut a striking figure in a sheer dark suit with cream-colored lining, so it's no surprise that he is supported by Giorgio Armani and was recently featured in Vogue.  More, please.

One parting word about People’s Symphony.  There are still some tickets let for their three, concurrent series, but numbers are limited.  PSC has also created unlimited student passes, where full-time students age 35 or younger can enjoy unlimited access to all remaining concerts for one flat fee of $25.

PSC remains the best deal for New Yorkers passionate about music that I have ever come across, and subscriptions will not be regretted.  The can be found at:  http://pscny.org/.

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