Dec 6, 2013
02:03 PMArts & Entertainment
Violin Virtuoso Sirena Huang to Play Sibelius With Hartford Symphony; We're Thinking Epiphany
In a season when gifts are about to flow, and when the spiritually-minded are urged to look beyond surface enchantments to find deeper truths and meaning, an invitation is being extended to Connecticut residents to enjoy a transformative experience—and very likely to receive the gift of an epiphany rendered through music.
Who knows the parameters of its potential blessings; who can quantify the butterfly effect?
To connect with the experience, attend any of four Hartford Symphony Orchestra concerts taking place from Thursday, Dec. 12, through Sunday, Dec. 15 in the Belding Theater at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford. (Times, prices and tickets can be found on the symphony’s website.)
World-class violin virtuoso Sirena Huang, the Windsor, Conn., teen who attended Loomis Chaffee and is now a sophomore at The Juilliard School, will return to the symphony to perform as part of a “wintry program” entitled Greensleeves & Sirena.
Led by guest conductor and renowned violinist Joel Smirnoff, the program includes Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3, “Polish” and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves, as well as featuring Huang performing Sibelius’ Concerto for Violin in D minor—the notoriously difficult piece that has been praised as masterful and exhilarating.
The combination of composition and performer should be nothing short of magical, as the accolades trained on Huang’s playing run like an arpeggio from “deeply expressive phrasing” to “flowing gracefulness,” and "transfixing." Writing about a performance by Huang a handful of years ago, The New York Times declared: “A Mendelssohn concerto exquisitely performed by a 13-year-old violinist, Sirena Huang, brought down the house.”
It’s not merely Huang’s talent and musicality that give these Hartford Symphony concerts heightened appeal—it’s so much more than that, which was revealed during a phone interview with Huang this week.
With great enthusiasm, intelligence and poise—and, somehow, patience about her concentric roles of teen, college student and virtuoso who recently signed with Columbia Artists Management—Huang revealed the rich weave of the context that helps explain why her playing elicits has such a visceral, transformative effect, and why she is so magnetic.
Asked about favorite pieces of music or composers, she admitted a fondness for the rich complexities of Beethoven, but also said, “As a performer, whatever we play we have to love it first in order for the audience to love it.”
Those are words that might come across as practiced, but it’s not just Huang’s tone and conviction that bespeak how deeply she believes. Even in YouTube videos of Huang playing, it’s immediately clear that she is not just performing the music but embodying it, channeling centuries of history and tradition, while engaging in a musical form of essential communication that takes place at level deeper and more powerful than that of any other articulation.
Her larger view of the importance of classical music and its contemporary derivations, along with her role in nourishing its well-being, is also telling. The fame that will surely come—has already come—to her is simply a byproduct of doing what she is passionate about, not a part of the process that she courts or even thinks about much.
That’s clear when Huang is asked about a particular high-profile concert that she cited as her proudest moment in a 2011 interview with The Hartford Courant. When just 11, she performed in Jordan for King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, along with 30 other Nobel Prize laureates, including the Dalai Lama, at the World Peace Conference in Petra.
“I often talk about that particular experience” Huang says on the phone. “I know I was very, very young then, but the concert was at a peace conference … [and] I was able to realize how powerful music will be. That was a moment in my life when I realized how important music is.”
Elaborating on her goals as she builds a career, Huang says, “I really do believe that classical music can really bring together people in ways that other things cannot. My goal is to share this human connection we have through music with as many people as I can.” As an offshoot of that, it’s also very important to her to play for younger audiences: “It’s a way of showing them there’s something wonderful out there.”
If Huang sounds modest, that quality is genuine for the musician who is said to have aspired to play the piano when very young but took up the violin at age four when she found her hands were too small to begin studying the piano.
Asked if it’s difficult to be in demand globally as a professional musician and yet also be a college sophomore at the same time, Huang pushes the notion aside and says, “I’m really happy that I’m at school and constantly learning. I feel like there’s so much I have to learn about.”
As for Loomis Chaffee, Huang points out that she started concertizing when she was very young, which put her on a much different track than that of typical students her age. “I felt like it was very important to me to have a normal high school life,” she says, with regular classes at a regular high school (even as she was in Juilliard’s pre-college program at the same time). “It really taught me how to multitask in terms of how to balance a teenage life and a violin career.”
Talking with Huang, it’s difficult to remember that she’s still a teen, especially when the topic turns to her love of the Hartford Symphony. The upcoming concerts will mark her ninth engagement with the symphony, for which she was also the first ever artist-in-residence.
Huang made her Hartford Symphony debut in 2009, according to the symphony, when the scheduled guest artist was stranded in Europe due to the Icelandic volcano eruption and Huang served as a last-minute replacement. Huang had made her orchestral debut with the National Taiwan Symphony at age nine.
“Every time when I go back, I always learn from the musicians,” Huang says of the Hartford Symphony. So noteworthy are these performances that The New York Times interviewed Huang, resulting in a nice story that traces the violinist’s bond with the symphony and her close ties to its Music Director Carolyn Kuan.
“I’ve grown up basically listening to their concerts,” Huang says, remembering first attending a Hartford Symphony concert at The Bushnell when she was six. “It was a dream of mine to be able to play with them.”
That dream has come true, with so many more sure to blossom over the course of Huang’s career. The upcoming concerts will surely be another watershed moment in that ascension.
Already, Huang has performed with many orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Russian Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. She was awarded the First Prize Gold Medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in 2009, received First Prize at the Thomas & Evon Cooper International Competition in 2011, and was given the Bernard and Mania Hahnloser Prize for Violin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland in the summer of 2011.
The Greensleeves & Sirena program will open with Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves. “First written as an entr’acte for Shakespeare’s Merry Wives, this piece relies heavily on the graceful and flowing string lines placed throughout,” the Hartford Symphony says in a release on the concerts. “The first half of the program will continue with [Huang] performing Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor. This beautifully difficult work will feature HSO’s talented string section and will highlight the blended sound of their instruments.”
After the intermission, the symphony will perform Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D Major, “Polish.” “This piece’s nickname, ‘Polish’, references the recurring Polish (polonaise) dance rhythms prominent in the symphony’s final movement,” the symphony says. “Many western critics and audiences viewed this symphony as a symbol of Polish independence, with the final scene as an expression of liberation from Russian domination and the reinstatement of their freedom.”
Part of the symphony’s Masterworks Series, Greensleaves & Sirena will be presented Dec. 12, at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 13 and 14 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. at the Belding Theater at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.
Tickets range in price from $35.50 to $67.50. Student tickets are $10. On Saturday, Dec. 14, $25 tickets are available for patrons age 40 and under. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (860) 244-2999 or see the symphony’s website for tickets.
The concert is presented in part by the Koski Memorial Fund, which was established by Sylvia Koski to honor her late husband, Edward Koski. Sirena Huang’s appearance is sponsored by Loomis Chaffee and Renbrook Schools. The 2013-2014 Masterworks Series is sponsored by MetLife Foundation and The Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation, with additional concert support by Bank of America, BNY Mellon, The Cly-Del Manufacturing Company, Hartford Hospital, the Katharine K. McLane and Henry R. McLane Charitable Trust. Generous support for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra is provided by the Greater Hartford Arts Council, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and with support from the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts which also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Violin Virtuoso Sirena Huang to Play Sibelius With Hartford Symphony; We're Thinking Epiphany