Submitted by Olympia Symphony

The Olympia Symphony Orchestra is proud to welcome Juilliard pianist, Angie Zhang, back to the Pacific Northwest for her seventh performance with Maestro Huw Edwards, this Sunday, November 12, at 7:00 p.m. at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Ms. Zhang last performed with the OSO to a sold-out audience on Valentine’s Day 2016, performing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. This Sunday she will delight Olympia with another stunning performance of Rachmaninov, this time his much-loved Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Olympia Symphony Angie Zhang
Angie Zhang performed to a sold out show last time she was in Olympia. Photo courtesy: Olympia Symphony

Described as a “valuable advocate for classical music from her generation” by NY Concert Review, Ms. Zhang, 21, is currently in her graduate studies as a Juilliard Kovner Fellow with Yoheved Kaplinsky and Joseph Kalichstein. Charming audiences with her consistently sensitive and thoughtful playing, she has performed extensively as a soloist with orchestras since her debut at the age of ten in Portland, OR. In addition to her multiple collaborations with the Olympia Symphony, she has appeared with the Juilliard Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Downtown Sinfonietta of White Plains, National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, and the Missouri Symphony Orchestra. Angie is a top prizewinner of numerous international, national, and Juilliard scholarship and concerto competitions, and has been featured in purposeful humanitarian, education, and musical programs across the country.

Sunday’s concert, cleverly titled “Four Funerals and a Wedding,” is the second in the Olympia Symphony’s grand 65th Anniversary Season. The program draws its name from four references to death embedded in the music, shrouded in lush harmonies, diverse textures, and a roller coaster of emotions. Following a brief absence at the onset of the season, Maestro Huw Edwards returns to the podium to begin his 15th season as Music Director and Conductor of the Olympia Symphony.

Olympia Symphony Huw Edwards
Maestro Huw Edwards returns for his 15th season as Music Director and Conductor of the Symphony. Photo courtesy: Olympia Symphony

The program will begin with Mahler’s Totenfeier, written in 1888. A twenty minute “symphonic poem,” it eventually became the blueprint for the first movement of his Second Symphony, composed seven years later. Mahler’s ten symphonies are big, expansive and hugely-encompassing works, often exceeding 100 minutes in length and requiring a gargantuan assemblage of players to perform. Totenfeier is gripping and intense music and a great way for the Olympia Symphony to tackle some of Mahler’s far-reaching symphonic music. Mahler intended this music to be about “the meaning of life.” He wrote the following program note for a performance in Dresden in 1901:

“We are standing beside the coffin of a man beloved. For the last time his life, his battles, his sufferings and his purpose pass before the mind’s eye. And now, at this deeply stirring moment, when we are released from the paltry distractions of everyday life, our hearts are gripped by a voice of awe-inspiring solemnity – which we seldom or never hear above the deafening traffic of mundane affairs. ‘What next?’ it says. What is life – and what is death? Is it all an empty dream, or has this life of ours, and our death, a meaning? If we are to go on living, we must answer this question.”

Angie Zhang will then take the stage to perform Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a brilliantly orchestrated and vibrantly virtuosic masterpiece for orchestra and solo piano, composed in 1934. The ominous Dies Irae funeral chant makes its first appearance in the tenth variation, and listeners will surely sigh upon the arrival of the famous eighteenth variation, with its ravishing soaring melody loved by audiences and movie directors alike.

Following the intermission, silence will usher in the tolling bells of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. Written in 1977, the year after Britten’s (English composer) death, this piece for string orchestra will provide a change in texture and opportunity for meditative reflection. Paul Hillier, Pärt’s biographer, suggests that “how we live depends on our relationship with death: how we make music depends on our relationship to silence.” Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten is bookended in silence, even written into the beginning and end of the score by the composer himself, symbolizing the silence that precedes life and the silence that follows death.

In stark contrast to Pärt’s “holy minimalism,” the concert will conclude with the fourth and fifth movements from Berlioz’s bizarre and unusual Symphonie fantastique. Composed in 1830, this five-movement work was ahead of its time with its daring orchestration and bewildering sonic effects, not to mention its troubling programmatic storyline. The symphony traces the story of obsessive love, inspired by Berlioz’s real-life obsession with Harriet Smithson, an Irish actress and the object of his desire. In the fourth movement, “March to the Scaffold,” the symphony’s main character (Berlioz himself) has overdosed on opium, dreamed he has killed his beloved (Smithson), is condemned to death, and led to execution. The finale, “Dream of the Witches Sabbath,” is an aural depiction of his own funeral, attended by diabolical spirits, complete with demonic voices (winds) and blood-curdling sneers (brass).

For more information on Olympia symphony season concerts and upcoming events, or to purchase tickets, please visit the Olympia Symphony website. $10 Student Rush tickets are available the day of the concert, and military and student discounts are available at any time online. Contact the Olympia Symphony if a household is eligible for the USDA School Meals Program and would like to receive free tickets through the Olympia Symphony’s Music for All initiative. Phone: 360-753-0074

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