Piano Sensation Haochen Zhang Returns after a Pivotal Debut

Haochen Zhang reunites with Music Director Donato Cabrera five years after their first “glittering” collaboration

Haochen Zhang and then Music Director candidate Donato Cabrera in 2013.

For internationally acclaimed, award-winning pianist Haochen Zhang, the California Symphony’s 2017–18 season finale concert SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW marks Zhang’s second time performing with the orchestra—five years after his 2013 debut and a concert which holds special significance in the 31-year history of the organization.

In the three seasons after founding Music Director Barry Jekowski’s departure from the California Symphony in 2010, audiences in Walnut Creek welcomed a total of 12 guest conductors to the podium as the organization searched for a successor. Towards the end of that search, for what would be his final chance to impress, then Music Director candidate Donato Cabrera led the orchestra in a program he devised which featured music by Adams, Prokofiev, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto №4.

The guest artist he selected to feature on that program was 22-year-old piano sensation Haochen Zhang — one of the youngest ever winners of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and already an established soloist who was in-demand internationally.

On his winning performance at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, The Dallas Morning News observed that Haochen Zhang “demonstrated a musical maturity almost unimaginable in one so young… he impressed with depth of musical understanding and subtle expressive nuance.”

It proved a wise choice.

In a review of the March 2013 concert, the Mercury News declared: “The afternoon’s centerpiece was a glittering performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto №4, with pianist Haochen Zhang as soloist. Cabrera shaped this radiant score with elegance and precision, and Zhang… was a strong, stylish partner.”

The review continues: “Zhang, a 22-year-old native of China, resists the swooning excess that besets many of his contemporaries in performances of Beethoven’s music. In the concerto’s first movement, his playing was assured and briskly emphatic; the finale came across with arresting, clear-eyed vigor.”

And as for Cabrera?

The Mercury News’ review headline says it all: “Guest conductor Cabrera, California Symphony make a perfect match in concert.” The piece continued: “Cabrera, conducting with impressive energy and meticulous focus, drew vibrant, dynamic playing from the ensemble.” Clearly, it was enough to persuade the selection committee and soon after the concert, Cabrera was appointed California Symphony’s second ever Music Director, a position he has held for 5 years and counting.

“I recall lots of fond memories from the last time I was there. The orchestra was really devoted and enthusiastic throughout the rehearsals, and Maestro Cabrera was not only a great conductor but such a supportive collaborator to a young musician like me.”—Haochen Zhang on his 2013 California Symphony debut.

On Zhang’s return, Cabrera comments: “I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to bring back Haochen since we first worked together in 2013 on Beethoven’s Piano Concerto №4. I could tell through his approach to the Beethoven that he’d bring the same wonderful singing qualities to the Brahms Piano Concerto №2.”

Zhang agrees: “One could argue that Beethoven 4 and Brahms 2 share a certain kind of likeness, in the sense that both are large-scale works full of Germanic spirit yet intimate reflections, which makes me look forward even more to our collaboration this time.”

The California Symphony’s season finale concert SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW takes place on Sunday, May 6 at 4 PM at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

Visit www.californiasymphony.org for tickets and more information.


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