Hartford Symphony Orchestra

Masterpiece Series - Proram No. 8


Edward Cumming, conductor

Sirena Huang, violinist

Thursday, April 22 - Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sirena Huang Dominates HSO Concert

Reviewed by Donna Bailey-Thompson

The evening belonged to Sirena Huang. Recognized and honored as a violin virtuoso, at age 15 she has a resume few musicians ever equal. (Following this review, please note her bio, as distributed by the HSO.)

The Icelandic volcano eruption (Music Director Edward Cumming calls it “The Beast”) that disrupted air travel to and from Europe, forced the guest viola soloist, Gilad Karni of Switzerland to remain at home. Creating a Plan B proved there is truth in the saying, “Tis an ill wind that blows no good”: Sirena Huang lives in Connecticut; she was an HSO guest soloist a year ago and will return in January 2011; she had no scheduling conflicts; and she had half a dozen pieces performance-ready. Cumming chose Camille Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor which automatically gave the piece the distinction of being an HSO premiere.

Wearing a shimmery deep strawberry red gown with a tight bodice and a full skirt, her glossy black hair pulled up into a pony tail cinched by a scrunchy that matched her dress, Huang’s entrance telegraphed the quality of her performance would be exceptional, equal to anyone years her senior. Her delicate features belied her strength, her stamina. She owned the stage before she played a note.

Within a minute of beginning the concerto, there was no doubt we were in the presence of an accomplished, experienced musician. No tricks. No histrionics. Instead, clean, clear, true sound, long bowing, beautiful tone, appropriate artistic expression – what a joy instructing her must be for her teachers! All of the above would not amount to a hill of beans except for what Miss Huang endows in her playing – her soul. Without that intrinsic gift, she would be a fine technician. Period. Fortunately for the millions she is poised to enchant, her soul will touch theirs.

The evening began with a pre-concert talk by a relaxed Maestro Cumming who somewhat prepared us for the artistry of the guest soloist. Presenting the planned all-Russian program was foiled when the Prokofiev was trumped by Saint-Saens. However, the opening piece, The Enchanted Lake, by Anatoly Liadov – a six-minute “legend for orchestra” written in six months by a perfectionist – evolves to dissolve to re-develop so as to unfold to become an ever-changing creation of watery serenity.

Following intermission – everyone exclaiming about Sirena Huang – Cumming conducted Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor. The throaty violas greeted a great Russian bear awakening from a long winter’s sleep to a richness of chords, but not to happiness. I wondered if the suggestion of loneliness, of longing for internal comfort, was musical code for Rachmaninoff’s known struggle with melancholy, an attack of despair, because the scoring seemed to imply forcing a will to move out of and dwell above depression. The music churned with the effort, the struggle to reach a brass ring, to pull up with the help of a persistent crescendo, to replace psychic emptiness with physical exhaustion.

The third movement featured Rachmaninoff’s lovely melody and the fourth opened with lively, extravagant energy, jubilation, and again I wondered about depression’s influence and speculated the score’s alacrity might be a synonym for the manic side of bipolar disorder. The melody returned, and soon there was the building and building of a new crescendo which burst into a rousing finale.

About Sirena Huang

Hailed as the “first real virtuoso from the text-message generation” by the Hartford Courant, Sirena Huang was the First Prize Gold Medalist of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in June 2009.

Other major achievements in international music competitions include the First Prize in the Remember Enescu International Violin Competition in Romania at age nine, the Third Prize in the Wieniawski International Competition for Young Violinists held in Poland at age 12, and the Second Place in the triennial International Louis Spohr Competition for Young Violinists held in Germany at age 10, in which she became the youngest ever contestant and prize winner in that competition’s history. Additionally, she was the recipient of the Special Prize for Best Bach Interpretation. In the United States, she has won numerous competitions as well including First Place at the Aspen Music Festival Violin Competition.

Since 2003, Huang has been selected three times as the youngest of ten Exceptional Young Artists worldwide at the Starling-DeLay Symposium for Violin Study at Juilliard. Huang was also invited to perform during the ceremony in which the annual Humanitarian Award was presented to President Sarkozy of France. In June 2006, she received the tremendous honor of playing for His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan and 30 other Nobel Prize Laureates at the World Peace Conference held in Petra. In October 2007, under the invitation of former Czech Republic President Havel, she played in the opening ceremony of Forum 2000 World Conference in Prague.

Now at the young age of 15, Huang has journeyed to eleven countries worldwide and has been featured as soloist in over 30 orchestras. She made her orchestra solo debut with the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra at age nine. Three weeks later, she played with the internationally acclaimed Staatskapelle Weimar in Germany. Other orchestra solo performances include Russian Symphony Orchestra, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, Greenwich Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Sinfonia, Park Avenue Chamber Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in New Jersey, and the Juilliard Pre-College Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Over the past few years, Huang has received a considerable amount of media attention in numerous TV, newspapers and radio programs, including SNPR, WQXR, New York Time, Hartford Courant, Stamford Advocate, Journal Inquirer, CNBC-30, WTNH, WTIC, WB20, Beethoven Radio and the nationally known radio program, From the Top. Last month, Huang received an official statement from Governor Rell of Connecticut honoring her music achievements. In the spring of 2009, the Hartford Courant praised Huang’s performance: “Her musicality is solid, professional and mature. Huang played with effortless technical command and projected fresh ideas in concentrated but flowing gracefulness.” Stamford Advocate reviewer acclaimed Huang’s performance: “Huang unfolded a series of interpretive viewpoints in the Lalo with a depth of consideration in lines and phrasings that revealed intelligence and musicality of great sophistication.” In November 2007, the New York Times described her performance in a concert to honor Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer: “A Mendelssohn concerto exquisitely performed by a 13-year-old violinist, Sirena Huang, brought down the house.” In February 2006, she was invited to be a guest speaker at the TED Conference held in California – an annual gathering of over 1000 of the finest minds in Technology, Entertainment, and Design of America. TED reporters called Huang a player with “a musician’s soul that transcends her years.”

Huange lives in South Windsor, CT and is currently a sophomore student at Loomis Chaffee School. She began her violin lessons when four years old with Mrs. Linda Fiore at the Hartt School and currently is a scholarship student at the Juilliard School Pre-College division, studying with Mr. Stephen Clapp and Ms. Sylvia Rosenberg. In addition to playing concerts, Huang has been involved in various charities both locally and nationally, including World Vision, and Fund for Access in her home in Connecticut.