Young pianist is spectacular with RDSO

A 17-year-old pianist became a veritable “rock star,” pulling off a spectacular performance that captured life’s turbulence and rapture at the opening Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concert of the season on Saturday.

A 17-year-old pianist became a veritable “rock star,” pulling off a spectacular performance that captured life’s turbulence and rapture at the opening Red Deer Symphony Orchestra concert of the season on Saturday.

Edmonton pianist Tong Wang tackled Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s melodramatic Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor with such breathtaking dexterity and flourish that she blew the full-house crowd right out of their seats at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.

Audience members prematurely leapt to their feet to give Wang a prolonged standing ovation — prompting conductor Claude Lapalme to finally turn around and reveal, “There’s more!”

It turned out the young pianist still had half of the concerto left to perform — which she did, with equal emotional gusto.

The sweep and showiness of Tchaikovsky’s concerto was delivered at a break-neck pace by the expressive player. Wang showed great power and range by striking the keyboard to produce thunderous chords of anger and despair.

At other times, her gently fluttering hands created lighthearted melodies as intricate and delicate as lacework.

Wang’s bravura performance was matched by the 45-member orchestra: Horns and woodwinds ushered in the concerto’s melancholy strains while the strings alternately soared with optimism.

Collectively, the musicians wove a rich, aural tapestry of life’s ecstasies and defeats.

The audience’s rapt attention was held to the final note — and sure enough, there was another standing ovation at the end.

Lapalme later remarked that Wang, who is studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, has achieved “rock star status.”

“They don’t make 17-year-olds like they used to . . .

“I’ve never had a standing ovation given in the middle of a piece before!”

Noting the audience’s ebullient enthusiasm, he thought the orchestra had better play an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s upcoming Symphony No. 5 in E Minor as a forewarning.

After the musical snippet was performed, Lapalme warned the audience to take note of it, since “this is not the end of the piece!” prompting a burst of laughter.

He explained this false finale in the fifth symphony “is the most mis-clapped moment in the history of music” — even fooling some sophisticated European audiences into applauding prematurely.

The crowd, now that much the wiser, didn’t fall into this trap. Applause was correctly held off until the end of the symphony’s fourth movement.

By then, audience members had been on a wild emotional ride, from the ominous clarinet notes at the beginning of the work, to the gorgeous, heart-swelling strings of the second movement, to a sprightly orchestral dance in the third, and booming, triumphal finale.

Together with Tchaikovsky’s pastoral Andante Cantabile, which was performed by a strings orchestra at the start of the concert, the trio of pieces illustrate the composer’s genius for depicting the full emotion spectrum of life, encompassing passion, humour, fear, melancholy, despair, and ultimately, hope.

The RDSO has set the bar high for what’s already turning out to be an exciting 26th season.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com