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Piano Sphere Has New Zip in 9th-Season Debut


The adventurous Piano Sphere series opened its ninth season Tuesday in a new location: Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles. The series moved from its home at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, founder Leonard Stein said before the program, because Zipper provided a stage and a piano. "We always had to rent a piano before," he said.

For the opening recital, Gloria Cheng played a typically challenging and imaginative program, and she played it with typical sensitivity and virtuosity.

All of the eight works, which included a U.S. premiere by Magnus Lindberg, bore a title or a subtitle, evoking certain intentions whether of mood or structure.

Toru Takemitsu's "Far Away," Melissa Hui's "When soft voices die" and Henri Dutilleux' "Resonances," as well as the subtitles of his Three Preludes, such as "D'ombre et de silence" (Of Shadow and Silence), fulfilled those expectations. But in distinct ways: Takemitsu, through impressionism; Hui, through emotional compression; Dutilleux, through investigation of the instrument's sonorities.

Similarly, Lindberg's Etude proved to be the expected technical tour de force. His "Six Jubilees," receiving a West Coast premiere, could easily be heard as variations on the trajectories of fireworks.

With its recurring motives of low-lying tremolos and high-pitched falling sighs, "Seven Mirrors" by Cambodian American composer Chinary Ung was the program's thorniest, most intense work.

The seven section titles included "Roar, Lion of the Heart" and "Tatooing Space-Time." A UC San Diego faculty member, Ung was in the audience to hear the enthusiastic reception of his work.

Cheng's most individual moment perhaps came in her spacious, poised realization of Earle Brown's "Four Systems," where the untraditional notation mandates the performer's interpretation for every element of pitch, duration and dynamic.

For her encore, Cheng played Variation 5 from the supplement to Schumann's Opus 13 Etudes.

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