Oh, Yu!

Oh, Yu!

Pianist Timmy Yu takes on Chopin Saturday with low-key Pasadena Community Orchestra

By Carl Kozlowski 05/16/2013

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Area classical music lovers have long been blessed with the presence of two world-class orchestras — the California Philharmonic and the Pasadena Symphony and POPS.

The Pasadena Community Orchestra (PCO) has been offering quarterly concerts for the past 30 years, utilizing a corps of volunteer musicians, and this Saturday they’ll be performing once again at their home base of the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena. The dynamic program will focus on the “Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky, as well as Mozart’s “Overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio,” but the evening will center on a guest performance by pianist Tianpeng “Timmy” Yu on Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor.”

“The simple reason that we selected Tianpeng for this concert is that he won our competition,” says Alan Reinecke, PCO music director. “In February, we had a competition open to musicians from 16 to 25 years old. We had 11 contestants, any of whom we would have been glad to award with our prize. Tianpeng was the last to perform, and simply gave a superlative performance. In the opinion of all of the judges, he gave a technically impressive, musical and colorful performance of the familiar Chopin ‘Piano Concerto in E Minor.’ The decision of the judges was unanimous and nearly instant. It was my pleasure to concur, and the time we have spent with Timmy in rehearsal has only reinforced our high opinion of his skills.”

Yu’s considerable abilities have been developed since the age of 4, when he began training in his native China. He came to the United States at age 12 to train in American programs in Los Angeles, and is currently a student at the Colburn School Conservatory of Music. He has already won the top prize in the fifth International Chopin Piano Competition, and in 2009, his performance of the Chopin “Fantasy” earned him first prize in the Spotlight Awards Competition in Los Angeles, which was broadcast on national television.

“I perform both here in America and my homeland China, but America has more opportunities and better teachers,” says Yu. “Chopin is my favorite composer, because he was young when he wrote his greatest works and I relate to those compositions.”

Aside from Yu’s youthful exuberance in winning the contest, the evening should be packed with excitement for music lovers. “The Firebird” was known as Stravinsky’s “breakthrough piece,” which made him famous, and its dynamic rhythms led to its being selected as the climactic finale to the 1940 Disney classic cartoon “Fantasia.”

Meanwhile, Mozart’s “Overture” is packed with Turkish percussion instruments including cymbals and triangles, guaranteeing a loud and lively performance. Add it all up, and it should be an epic evening for Reineke, who is stepping down from his conductor and music director roles after five years and thus ending his family’s reign with the PCO, which was founded by his father.

“We are just 75 volunteer musicians who work in other fields but simply love to play music,” says Bette Solomon, president of the PCO board of directors and a viola player as well. “We give five free concerts to the community every year, with four at First Church of the Nazarene and one summer concert in a Sierra Madre park. We’re local, so you don’t have to drive downtown, and we have free parking and a reception afterwards with cookies so people can meet us. It’s also family-friendly because the locations are easy to walk out of if kids get disruptive, so come check us out.” n

The Pasadena Community Orchestra performs with guest soloist Tianpeng Yu at 8 p.m. Friday at the First Church of the Nazarene, 3700 E. Sierra Madre Blvd., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 445-6708 or visit pcomusic.org.

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