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MUSIC & DANCE | MUSIC REVIEW

Shanghai shines with Mozart, Zhu

September 26, 2003|Daniel Cariaga | Special to The Times

Two engaging performances lent distinction to an otherwise uneventful appearance by the touring Shanghai Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday night at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts: Tian Jiang achieved an exquisite performance of Mozart's beloved Piano Concerto No. 23, and later, the orchestra, led by music director Chen Xieyang, gave the U.S. premiere of Zhu Jian-er's abrasive and imaginative 10th Symphony.

A native of Shanghai trained at the Shanghai Conservatory and the Juilliard School, the internationally known Jiang is a deeply persuasive Mozartean who delivers the full spectrum of the composer's virtues -- wit, pathos, brilliance and serenity. In this buoyant performance, he was assisted sensitively by conductor and orchestra.

Without program notes -- which members of the press received but which did not appear in the program -- Zhu's 19-minute essay in violent atonality and arresting effects must have mystified the friendly concertgoers in Cerritos; their otherwise vociferous applause was here muted.

But the Tianjin-born composer, now 81, is a master of tight musical narrative. Too bad listeners were not informed of the four-line poem that inspired the work or given more details about the recorded voices and instrumental solos that accompanied the performance.

The rest of the program revealed capable but hardly virtuosic playing from this game ensemble, which is certainly not, as its long biography claims, "the best of the Far East" orchestras.

Tian was again soloist in a piano-concertino arrangement of a suite from Tan Dun's film score for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" -- breezy, forgettable music. The orchestra also played an attractive short piece by Wang Xilin (born 1937), Rossini's Overture to "William Tell," and the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's "Prince Igor."

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