Classically Trained: Piano-filled concerts coming to Costa Mesa

In keeping with its "Year of the Piano" programming, the Pacific Symphony will play host to pianist Conrad Tao this week.

The 16-year-old Chinese American musician, whose skills have brought him performing alongside orchestras worldwide, is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday with the Costa Mesa-based orchestra in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Music Director Carl St.Clair will conduct the concerts, which are his last of the season.

Yuja Wang, the renowned 24-year-old Chinese pianist, was originally scheduled to perform but cancelled due to illness, symphony officials announced Friday.

The program for Thursday through Saturday is Bohuslav Martinu's "Memorial to Lidice," Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. Tao solos on the Rachmaninoff.

Sunday's "Classical Connections" concert features a conversation-style performance of the Martinu and Rachmaninoff.

"Rhapsody" is a series of 24 piano variations inspired by a caprice of the Italian violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini — a classical superstar of his day whose techniques have since become influential. The variations start simply enough, but as they progress, audiences are sure to be enthralled by the virtuosity demanded of Tao to see "Rhapsody" come to a glorious finish.

After the intermission, the concert hall will evoke the tortured soul of a Russian composer in the Symphony No. 5, whose 1937 premiere in Leningrad (since renamed St. Petersburg) earned it an ovation of some 30 minutes.

Michael Clive, who writes many of the Pacific Symphony's program notes, calls the Shostakovich masterwork "a symphony that is one long, contemptuous shout of protest against the Stalinist regime's campaign of terror against the citizens of Russia and its oppressive, often brutal regulation of artists."

In other Pacific Symphony news, its 2011 gala fundraiser netted about $1 million for the symphony's artist and educational programs. The May 21 event at the Hyatt Regency Irvine was themed after the iconic 1942 film "Casablanca," whose score will be played by the orchestra live with the film next March.

Rick's famous gin joint for this occasion was renamed — not surprisingly, considering all the conductors in all the orchestras in all the world — after St.Clair. Some 300 guests walked into Carl's Café Américain and were met with a live camel, elegant dinner, auction, prizes and live music.

I imagine that, as time went by, somebody asked Sam to play that one tune again.


The Sailors Music Boosters are organizing the "Jazz Picnic under the Bell Tower" from 6 to 8 p.m. at Newport Harbor High School, 600 Irvine Ave. Ten percent of the proceeds support Harbor's music programs.

Kirk Phillips is the featured guest artist.

Advance discount tickets are available at The event features dinner, auctions, artwork sales and, of course, live music. For more information, e-mail

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at

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