World-class pianist Ang Li keeps a busy schedule. Last week, she was playing with the Bari Ico Orchestra in Italy. Next week she’ll give performances in Manila, Seoul, then on to British Columbia. But being ranked among the top 30 pianists in the world (by the 2009 Cliburn Competition) has that kind of effect on a performer’s schedule. This Sunday, she’ll be making a much-anticipated stop in Grass Valley, as part of InConcert Sierra’s Third Sunday Series.
This weekend’s performance will be at 2 p.m. at the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Osborne Hill Road and is a long time coming for InConcert Artistic Director Ken Hardin. Li’s music caught his attention a few years ago when she submitted a sample for consideration, and he’s been watching her career grow ever since.
“I was impressed by her selection. It was varied in style and expressive with vibrant technique,” he said.
Sunday’s program includes favorites such as “7 Fantasies, Op. 116” by Johannes Brahms, “Allegro de Concierto” by Enrique Granados, “Liebestod” by Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt and several beloved works of Frederick Chopin. Her program includes one unusual piece, “Memories of an Ancient Garden,” by one of Canada’s most successful living composers, Alexina Louie. The piece was written in 1988 to commemorate the opening of the new Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. Her music represents the mixture of Eastern and Western music.
“I love the whole program,” Julie Hardin, executive director of InConcert Sierra, said. “But I’m most excited to hear ‘Memories of an Ancient Garden,’ which evokes the sense of stumbling upon a forgotten garden that you are tentatively exploring. It’s quite exhilarating.”
Attracting and booking well known musicians isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Ken Hardin notes that the classical music world is pretty small and that even though performers travel all over the world, there are only a few major conservatories. They get to know each other through schooling and talk a lot about different organizations.
Li’s toured five continents and performed on some of the nation’s finest stages, including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. She made her first public appearance at Beijing Concert Hall at age 6. At 13, she made her orchestral debut with the Little Orchestra Society of New York at Avery Fisher Hall. Today she’s an internationally acclaimed piano virtuoso whose long list of credits reaches well beyond her years. Her youth, personality, extensive repertoire and broad appeal have made her one of the world’s foremost rising classical piano stars.
According to Ken Hardin, the response from artists who come to Grass Valley and perform is that they love it.
“They love the community, the area, the audience. We have a very engaged audience. They love playing for people that want to hear them. We have a good reputation in the world of performing arts,” he said.
Though most of InConcert’s attendees may not be familiar with Ang Li today, they’ve developed a trust with the organization.
“They know I’m not going to put something in front of them that’s not worth their time and money,” he added.
The audience can get to know Li at a pre-concert forum, a staple in the Third Sunday Series. The forum, led by pianist Aileen James, is a unique experience for the artist and guests, lessening the feeling of separation between the two and giving them a sense of knowing each other.
On Saturday, Ken Hardin will have the opportunity to share the piano bench with Li for a sold-out concert featuring a program of piano four-hands.
“Playing with a pianist like Ang Li is amazing,” he said. “When two pianists, who are used to owning an entire piece of piano real estate, are asked to share the 88 keys, it’s a choreographed dance. When you perform with a pianist of Ang Li’s caliber, you need to know how to tango and tango well,” he said.
The pre-concert forum begins at 1:15 p.m. Sunday with the concert beginning at 2 p.m. General admission tickets cost $26. For information, go to http://inconcertsierra.org, or call 530-273-3990.
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer from Grass Valley.