Haochen Zhang

Review: Cliburn Gold Encore | Plano Symphony Orchestra | Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts

Civic Pride

The Plano Symphony opens its season with 2009 Cliburn winner Haochen Zhang

published Thursday, September 25, 2014

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega
Haochen Zhang

Richardson- It is no secret that north Texas is home to some great orchestral music. The Fort Worth and Dallas Symphony Orchestras stand as pillars of the Metroplex’s orchestra scene. The relatively new Dallas Chamber Symphony continues to make great strides forward in building an important presence with its unique programming. However, mentioning only these three does not provide a complete picture of the depth and variety of options available to lovers of orchestral music in our region. Plano’s contribution certainly should not be ignored.

The 30-year-old Plano Symphony Orchestra is a fully professional ensemble comprised of some of the finest players around. Immediately apparent at any of their performances is their special audience: Notable not only in its ample size but its attitude. At the Sept. 20 performance, a brief and very un-scientific survey of a couple audience members revealed a deep-held love for the organization and a sense of community ownership. While things typically shunned at the Meyerson or Bass Hall—such as talking, shoe tapping, and applauding between movements were occasionally distracting—it was absorbed by the civic spirit of the occasion.

It is really quite a shame that the acoustical conditions of the Eisemann Center are so poor. Although not unattractive visually, the hall’s wide house combined with the orchestra set back into a cavernous stage area kills or distorts much of the sound before it is transmitted to the audience. A quick look through the Eisemann Center’s season brochure makes obvious that venue is principally home to amplified performances of popular music and musicals. Without the aid of a massive speaker system, the orchestra was left to fend for itself in an unfriendly environment.

From the opening of Saturday’s program with Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, the acoustical weakness of the hall was obvious. The peaks and valleys of dynamic were condensed into rough approximations. Woodwind sounds were virtually nonexistent. Squinting the ears, however, one could hear the evidence of a fine, well-rehearsed ensemble, conducted by Hector Guzman.

2009 Cliburn gold medalist Haochen Zhang took the stage for the Beethoven Piano Concerto in E-flat major, Op. 73. While this work gives ample opportunities for a young pianist to wallow in vain virtuosic playing, Zhang resisted this temptation to convey an impressive musical maturity. Stripped of the typical glow of a concert hall, the exposed sound revealed a capable and sturdy technical ability. But there was little he could do to keep from covering the woodwinds and in some cases the entire orchestra during the second movement. The audience met the end of the finale with a generous and warm ovation. Zhang has won a friend in the audience of the Plano Symphony.

Although Dvořák’s eighth symphony, which concluded the program, is a bright and optimistic work on the surface, there are deeper layers of unrest and even pathos just underneath. The piece begins with a long, melancholic melody played by the cello section. Here a beautiful sound, warm and embracing, made it out to the audience. However, when louder sections arrive, it seems though the texture was composed of large swaths of sonic fabric taken directly from the bolt rather than carefully weaved together. The intonation was spot-on, the rhythms accurate, but the overall effect was one of noise. Again, one must imagine what could have been in a more sympathetic hall.

Among the many different measures of success in the orchestra world, the Plano Symphony Orchestra looks effective in having won the adoration of the community it serves. If this this not one of the most important measures of accomplishment, what is?

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Civic Pride
The Plano Symphony opens its season with 2009 Cliburn winner Haochen Zhang
by Zachariah Stoughton

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