With the fever for classical music that's been sweeping China over the past decade, it's gotten hard to swing a baton without knocking over a piano prodigy, from controversial keyboard star Lang Lang (flamboyant showman? the future of classical music? or, God save us, both?) to the profoundly gifted Yundi Li and equally interesting Sa Chen. But those players are all in their twenties now -- practically ancient.
So Tuesday night's performance at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, "Musical Prodigies From Shenzhen," offered an intriguing glimpse at what may be the next generation of Chinese wunderkinder. Four exceptionally talented young players, students of the now-famous Zhaoyi Dan, mounted a display of technical power and control that was, to put it mildly, jaw-dropping.
With a heavy emphasis on romantic showpieces, leavened with some mostly ho-hum contemporary Chinese works, the program may have held few musical revelations. But the artistry and technical skill were astounding. Haochen Zhang, as poised as a 15-year-old in tails can probably ever be, brought a sure touch to Chopin's Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, always sensitive but never cloying. The 14-year-old Qizhen He delivered Chopin's Five Etudes, Op. 10, with assurance and style, elegantly navigating those perilous waters. Zhang Zuo, who turns 17 this month, brought off Liszt's fiendish "Reminiscences of Don Juan" with an impressive blend of authority, power and grace. And the charming Linzi Pan, at the tender age of 11, brought Shande Ding's suite "Delightful Holidays" to life in a playful, unaffected interpretation that sounded as if she plays piano just for the sheer joy of it. Keep an eye on all those names; they'll likely be surfacing again soon.
-- Stephen Brookes