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ISSUE 118 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/6/2005

Pianist Zhang imports Chinese pieces

By Rebecca Lofft
Staff Writer


Friday, May 6, 2005

Wei Zhang, a visiting scholar from East China Normal University (ECNU), performed a recital of traditional Chinese folk music arranged for piano in Urness Recital Hall April 27.

A slim, well-postured young woman, Zhang teaches piano performance, piano improvised accompanying and group piano at ECNU and received her Master’s degree in music education with an emphasis in piano performance and pedagogy from Shanghai Teacher’s University.

A “Chinese Piano Composition Recital,” Zhang’s 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.

Zhang’s 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,” Zhang’s 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. Zhang’s 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 song’s simple melody expanded into a broad march-like section, later revving up to a rambunctious, bass-heavy conclusion.

In “Music at Sunset,” Zhang’s 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 Zhang’s hands.

The technical complexity of Zhang’s program culminated in three movements from the “Yellow River” piano concerto. Kent McWilliams exchanged motives back and forth between Zhang’s solo part and the orchestral reduction. Zhang immaculately executed the winding cadenza passages of the first movement, “Yellow River Boatman’s 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 Zhang’s visit to St. Olaf. “She exploited the piano’s 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.





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