CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : Future Looks Quite Bright for Young Chinese Pianist

It’s no wonder that 17-year-old Lin Hong is convinced that this is his fated year for winning competitions. As the winner of last month’s Young Artist Concerto Competition sponsored by the San Diego Symphony, Hong will make his debut with the orchestra this week as part of the orchestra’s young people’s concerts at Symphony Hall. Under the baton of Murry Sidlin, the regular conductor for this series, Hong will play twice Wednesday and Thursday, as well as the afternoon family concert April 1.

While polishing Edvard Grieg’s A Minor Piano Concerto for these appearances, Hong took time out to win first place, junior division, in the Krenek Competition last weekend at Palm Desert. Hong came to this country from the People’s Republic of China with a promising track record. Last year he took second prize in the Shanghai Piano Competition, which allowed him to play Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto with the Shanghai Symphony.

“When I was young, my teacher wanted me to go to a Western society to study, but I had no idea how I could do this,” Hong said. But when his father came to study at United States International University three years ago, the once-remote possibility of studying abroad became more likely. China Lin, the name by which Hong’s father is known here, is both a composer and performer on the traditional Chinese instruments, the two-stringed erhu and the bawa , a transverse flute.

Hong was not eager, however, to follow in his father’s footsteps and study traditional Chinese music.


“The government gave a piano to my father in order to compose his pieces. Every day I listened to the piano while my father composed.” His father gave him his first piano lessons and by the age of 9 sent him off to the Shanghai Conservatory, where he studied until last year.

In Shanghai, Hong’s Moscow-trained teachers drilled him on the basics, but he was exposed to very little 20th-Century music except for Debussy and Ravel. Earlier in his piano studies, the dogmas of the Cultural Revolution had derailed his studies into inconsequential repertory.

“During the Cultural Revolution we had to learn piano music transcribed from Chairman Mao’s operas,” Hong said. In spite of these gaps, the eager pianist has mastered modern music with alacrity. For the Palm Desert competition he had to learn Ernst Krenek’s Five Piano Pieces in less than a month, and he is preparing his Stravinsky repertoire for the Stravinsky International Piano Competition in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., in which he will compete this June.

Since the fall, Hong has been studying with Karen Follingstad at San Diego State University and has taken occasional lessons with Johanna Harris Hodges at UCLA. Comparing American teaching methods to what he experienced in China, he noted that American instructors display a more nurturing attitude toward their students.


“In Shanghai, my conservatory teachers were very strict. I feel that teachers here are very good-hearted--they like their students very much.”

Hong observed that in America the abundance of opportunities to perform and enter competitions gives an aspiring musician the hope for a hearing.

“In China, there are so many, many people. But here, the opportunity is open for every person if you can play well.”

Opera Predictions. Early next month, San Diego Opera’s general director, Ian Campbell, will announce the 1989-90 season, but at this point, there will be few surprises. In October, the company will present Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” to open the mayor’s Russian Arts Festival. In the regular season we can expect Campbell’s long-promised production of Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, as well as a new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Neither of these operas has been presented by the local company before, so it is a safe bet that the season’s two other operas will be familiar favorites. Verdi and Puccini, anyone?

Bomb Threats. When someone mentions a bomb threat and the San Diego Symphony in the same sentence, several humorous retorts immediately come to mind. It was no joke, however, when a bomb threat caused the cancellation of the second half of the Sunday matinee concert on March 19. Local concert-goers heard Bruno Leonardo Gelber play Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto, but missed Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World.”

The symphony is making up for this, however, by offering tickets to either the April 27 concert with director Klauspeter Seibel and cellist David Geringas or the May 11 concert under guest conductor Reinhard Peters.

Although nothing was discovered at Symphony Hall after the March 19 bomb threat, the La Jolla Chamber Music Society added security to the Israel Philharmonic concert held the next night at Civic Theatre. The concert was delayed 20 minutes while people entered the building in two lines carefully monitored by agents with hand-held metal detectors. Patrons who left the theatre at intermission were given passes to re-enter the building. There were no incidents, and the program of Brahms and Schoenberg under music director Zubin Mehta was anything but a bomb.

Winner’s Concert. Local pianist Bryan Verhoye, who has won a number of competitions including the recent Carmel Music Competition, will play a noon recital April 3 at the downtown Hotel Omni for San Diego Mini-Concerts. Verhoye’s program will include Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Ginastera’s First Sonata, and Mozart’s C Major Sonata.