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Under Zhao’s direction East meets West

Grace Xia Zhao, top-prize winner in the Los Angeles International Liszt Competition, performed “One Passion, Two Stories: A Concert Featuring the Classic Piano Works of Western and Chinese Composers” on Sunday. Zhao played various works, including “Estampes” by Claude Debussy. / photo by Candice Salazar

Veronica Rodriguez
Staff Writer

Grace Xia Zhao, director of piano studies and artist in residence, filled Morgan Auditorium with her concert, “One Passion, Two Stories.”

The Music Department put on the concert featuring the classic piano works of Western and Chinese composer Zhao on Sunday.

“I had never heard Chinese (compositions) played before so it was quite the treat. There was diversity in the music,” Joanna Szymanski, marriage and family therapy graduate student, said.

Zhao appeared from behind the curtain in a long black dress and her hair pulled back. She began the concert with the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12” by Franz Liszt.

The Rhapsody had Zhao standing when she would hit the harder notes.

From the back of the auditorium you could see her facial expressions as the tone of the music changed.

Photographs by Gary Colby, professor of photography, were shown as part of the recital.

Zhao played the music as photographs from nature to industry, such as botanical gardens to cityscape were shown.

Zhao also played “The Man I Love,” by George Gershwin. Zhao said she wanted to pay tribute to her second homeland, the United States, and decided to include a hint of the classical American genre with Gershwin’s composition.

The performance was played at a faster and heavier beat; a perfect combination of jazz and pop on piano.

“I liked the Gershwin piece, it was classic and a great addition to the concert,” attendee Ryan Nardini said.

The concert continued with pieces from Chinese composers, which included “Little Cabbage,” which Zhao introduced as a folk tale in which Little Cabbage lost her mother and endured an evil stepmother.

Zhao told the audience that her mother used to scare her with this story.

Her mother would tell her if she did not behave, she was going to have an evil stepmother just like Little Cabbage; the audience laughed at the comedic relief from the intense music.

“The last piece ‘Hundreds of Birds Worshipping the Phoenix,’ was a festive and celebratory piece,” Zhao said.

The song was one of the most well-received by the audience. They responded with an applause that went on for a while.

Zhao’s wardrobes definitely fit in with her styles of music. As the compositions changed from Western to Chinese, her outfits did the same.

Emerging from backstage, her white silk dress with turquoise flowers complemented the compositions that followed.

Zhao decided to play the ‘Phoenix’ piece last to celebrate next year’s Year of the Dragon since both animals symbolize good luck in the Chinese culture.

The applause after the last song brought Zhao back on the stage for an encore which she honored.

“I received a lot of support from the department and faculty. We want to continue promoting live performances on campus and make use of our beautiful auditorium,” Zhao said.

Zhao will be traveling to Beijing in January 2012 to debut her solo concert at the National Center for the Performing Arts.

Zhao currently serves as the artist in residence at the University of La Verne. She will be releasing two solo albums, one on Chopin works and another on East Asian composers in spring of 2012.

Veronica Rodriguez can be reached at

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