A slim, well-postured young woman, Zhang teaches piano performance, piano improvised accompanying and group piano at ECNU and received her Masters degree in music education with an emphasis in piano performance and pedagogy from Shanghai Teachers University.
A Chinese Piano Composition Recital, Zhangs program consisted of seven traditional Chinese folk melodies expanded and arranged for piano performance and three movements of the piano concerto Yellow River, upon which Kent McWilliams, Assistant Professor of Piano at St. Olaf, accompanied Ms. Zhang.
Zhangs luminescent burgundy suit and her first chord announced that she would not provide a boring program; Zhang combined folk-originated music with precise piano technique. The melody of Dance of Festival, Zhangs first piece, had a repetitive melody that could have been made boring by other hands; however, Zhang brought life and vivacity to the lively tune, which depicted happy children during a festival, as Zhang later explained. Zhangs steady tempos and paced rubatos carried listeners throughout the song.
Tea-picking Girls Catching Butterflies had a folk dance soul. This song, with modal rhythmic motifs repeated in several octaves sounded more like the stereotypical idea of Oriental music.
Zhang described her fourth piece, Xinjiang Dance, as a dance with a distinctive syncopation rhythm pattern from the Xinjiang region in China. This songs simple melody expanded into a broad march-like section, later revving up to a rambunctious, bass-heavy conclusion.
In Music at Sunset, Zhangs technique mirrored a traditional Chinese instrument, the pipa, by constantly hitting the same key.
Music at Sunset became particularly complex when it launched into two conflicting rhythms, one played by each of Zhangs hands.
The technical complexity of Zhangs program culminated in three movements from the Yellow River piano concerto. Kent McWilliams exchanged motives back and forth between Zhangs solo part and the orchestral reduction. Zhang immaculately executed the winding cadenza passages of the first movement, Yellow River Boatmans Song.
The second movement, Ode to the Yellow River, was reminiscent of Swanee River or another old-time musical song in its schmaltzy sentimentality, which would have come across as cheesy had Zhang not been so sincere in her playing. Instead, it was simply beautiful.
Wrath of the Yellow River, the third movement, referenced earlier motifs, particularly inexhaustible arpeggios. Although the Yellow River piano concerto has 10 movements in all, the chosen three seemed to fairly represent the concerto overall.
Various students remarked afterward upon Zhangs visit to St. Olaf. She exploited the pianos sound very well, but also the original tonality of the traditional instruments, Krista Apland 08 said. Chinese student, Celia Chen 06, remembered many of the melodies, familiar to her from hearing them played in China upon traditional instruments.