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Zhao tells stories with piano

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Michaela Bulkley
Staff Writer

Sundays at the Morgan this month featured the La Verne Artist-in-Residence Grace Zhao. She performed a solo piano concert with six sets of pieces composed by Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and more Friday in Morgan Auditorium.

“I thought her set list was really cool, to transition from Baroque to Romantic music to modern, it was like a historical timeline,” said freshman liberal studies major Melissa Lach.

Zhao’s elegance and energy was evident when she walked on stage in a floor length dark blue elegant dress matched with leopard print heels. She bowed and then sat at the piano and seemed to enter another world. Throughout each song she would emote and move with how the song felt, like a dancer would, while also staying focused and playing some extremely difficult and complicated pieces with ease.

“I sat on the left side so I could see her keyboarding,” said professor of humanities Al Clark.

“It’s so complicated I don’t know how she does it.”

The first set of songs were composed by Bach for the cello and Johannes Brahms which translated into a piano composition. This 17-minute piece was played entirely with Zhao’s left hand.

“She had so much emotion,” sophomore accounting major Gricelda Lopez said. “It was so powerful and I was so impressed.”

Each set of songs sounded like a story without words, changing emotions and swelling from a quiet serene melody to a powerful sound that filled the entire auditorium.

The second piece was Sonata in Eb Major Op. 27 no. 1 by Beethoven. Zhao played with both hands and had someone come out to turn the pages on her music book for her. It was a silent conversation of head nods of to turn the page at the right time so the songs would continuously flow.

The next song was “The Man I Love,” which had a more jazz feel to the song. It felt like a woman telling the story of a heart break as the song started happy and light with sweet short notes, but progressed into more dramatic and low notes that would last for a while.

The second half of the concert was shorter, with shorter sets that sounded modern. This included “No. 14” composed by a friend of Zhao, Daniel Highman, for Zhao. It was titled after a painting “No. 14” by Mark Rothko which is in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

“It has remained as one of my favorite pieces to play,” Zhao said in the artist’s notes.

Before Zhao played the last piece, she took the time to dedicate the concert to Kathy Lamkin thanking her for her dedication and inspiration as a colleague.

The last piece was composed by Chinese composer Tan Dun to pay tribute to his culture of Chinese music as he learned classical piano.

“Eight Memories in Watercolor” only featured five songs that despite all sounding different.

It was easy to tell they were meant to be together despite some songs being omitted from the set.

After non-stop applause at the end of the concert, Zhao played a surprise encore.

“She did an encore with on of the hardest pieces of all time,” Clark said, “We are so lucky to have her. She is world class.”

Michaela Bulkley can be reached at michaela.bulkley@laverne.edu.

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