A formidable talent dazzles an enthusiastic audience at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) under conductor Roberto Abbado, recently gave a concert in Jerusalem featuring the young 21-year-old Chinese pianist, Haochen Zhang. He gave his debut recital at the Shanghai Concert Hall when he was 5 years old and a year later made his orchestral debut. In 2005, when he was 15 years old, Zhang moved to the United States and enrolled in the Curtis Institute of Music where he studied under Gary Graffman. The following year he made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut. He was the youngest participant to be awarded the prestigious Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal. This took placed in 2009 at the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
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The IPO program featured Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto, the so-ca
lled Rach 3. Because of its technical and musical demands, this is regarded as one of the most difficult in the piano repertoire. I was somewhat apprehensive at the prospect of hearing a young 21-year-old tackle this daunting work. But any reservations I had were very soon dispelled. 

Zhang succeeded in bringing out all the romanticism of the ferociously difficult work. He certainly dispatched the countless virtuosic passages with gusto and aplomb. Conductor Roberto Abbado with the Israel Philharmonic provided an adequate supporting role and was a worthy partner with Zhang in this endeavor. 

Without question, Zhang possesses awesome talent. Whether this prodigy will fulfill his enormous potential remains to be seen, but I was encouraged by his deeply introspective, carefully nuanced, emotional-laden performance of his encore, Robert Schumann's Traumerei from the Kinderszenen suite. 

As I listened to Zhang, my mind went back almost 25 years when I heard a performance of the young teenager, Evgeny Kissin, in this same hall on one of his first concert tours outside Russia. This was long before his now-legendary Carnegie Hall debut. Both young artists were somewhat shy and reserved but possessed enormous keyboard skills. Kissin is now well established as one of the great pianists of the age. Zhang certainly has the technical prowess to follow the same trajectory.

The second half of the concert was devoted to a lively performance of Saint Saens' Symphony No. 3 with organ. After the Rachmaninov, this was a hard act to follow. Nevertheless, Abbado and the orchestra certainly captured the romantic
sweep of the work and the shimmering strings were an absolute delight. The organ was barely audible in soft sections and I missed the reverberation of the pipes in the crescendo passages.

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