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UCD Orchestra’s Family Concert to feature local pianist

Han-ah Sumner, 15, who will be a sophomore this fall at Davis High School, will be the piano soloist at the June 2 Family Concert presented by the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra. She won the orchestra's recent concerto competition. Courtesy photo

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May 24, 2011 | Leave Comment

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What: UC Davis Symphony Orchestra’s Family Concert

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 2

Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center

Tickets: $12 general, $8 students/children; http://www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787

The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra wraps up its season at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 2, with the annual Family Concert — and the evening will feature an unusual soloist.

Han-ah Sumner, a local 15-year-old who has played in the orchestra’s cello section all season, will be featured — this time as a piano soloist — in the “Allegro moderato” movement from the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Several months ago, Sumner entered the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition. Conductor Christian Baldini told The Enterprise he was a bit surprised when he saw that Sumner, whom he knew as a cellist, had entered the competition as a pianist.

“But I knew she was talented,” he said, adding, “she was our only competitor who was not a university student.”

Sumner won the competition, finishing ahead of the university students who are several years her senior.

“She was the unanimous pick of our judges,” Baldini said. “The level of her keyboard playing was so high. When I told the judges that she also plays cello with the orchestra, their jaws dropped.”

Sumner, who will be a sophomore at Davis High School in the fall, said she’s been working hard as a keyboard student this year.

“But I can’t say that I like the piano better than the cello,” she said. “I can’t seem to give either one of them up.”

Asked to describe what she likes about each instrument, she said, “The piano really is a soloistic instrument, and maybe a lonely instrument. It really lets me play on my own, and not rely on other people.

“The cello is such a social instrument, and I enjoy that, too … playing in chamber groups and playing in an orchestra.

“The piano is more of a percussion instrument, with no vibrato,” she added. “But I also enjoy the warmth of tone you can get out of the cello.”

Of the Beethoven piece she’ll play at the Family Concert, Sumner said, “It’s different than a lot of concertos that Beethoven wrote. It’s more introspective, with a gentler tone. It’s sort of like the music is being created from within, rather than outwards like some of his other concertos. The audience can reach into the music.

“And the opening is my favorite part of the concerto. It’s so incredibly special.”

The UCD Symphony Concerto Competition is not Sumner’s first piano award. She won first prize in the Sylvia M. Ghiglieri Piano Competition at California State University, Stanislaus, in 2010.

In 2009, she won a place in the JAMMIES and was a Sacramento Philharmonic League Scholarship winner. In 2008, Sumner won the Sacramento Youth Symphony’s Premier Orchestra Concerto Competition.

She studied piano first with Huei-Ping Chen Lin, and now studies with Natsuki Fukasawa. In addition to the piano, Sumner studies cello with Julie Hochman in Davis, plays AYOS select soccer, and competes with her high school speech team.

Also featured on the program will be an original piece by UCD graduate student composer Gabriel Bolaños, titled “Cerro Negro,” which was awarded the honor of being premiered at this concert as part of the orchestra’s annual competition among student composers.

Bolaños is a Nicaraguan-American composer and guitarist who is studying with professor Pablo Ortiz at UCD. His “Two Daguerreotypes” for string quartet was performed Monday by the Empyrean Ensemble.

“Cerro Negro” is inspired by the 2,400-foot-high cinder cone in Nicaragua of the same name, which erupted in 1850. “Cerro Negro” translates into English as “Black Hill” and while the volcano itself is desolate, it is surrounded by green hillsides.

Baldini said, “Bolaños has a very original way of writing for the orchestra. He’s very talented, and it is fantastic to have him here, because he brings good energy to the program.”

Also on the program will be another piece by Beethoven, the Leonore Overture No. 3. Leonore is a central character in Beethoven’s only opera (“Fidelio”), and Beethoven wrote four different Leonore overtures. This third one is now the most commonly performed.

“It is perhaps the most beautiful Beethoven overture, lasting about 15 minutes, which is long for an overture,” Baldini said. “And it has trombones, which some of the other Beethoven overtures do not.”

Rounding out the program will be the lilting “Emperor Waltz” by Johann Strauss II, a famous piece from Vienna written in 1888 to celebrate Emperor Franz Josef.

The annual Family Concert, held in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center, also represents a final bow for many members of the orchestra, as they prepare to graduate in June.

“It is both a farewell and a celebration,” Baldini said. “And it is a showcase of our two competitions, for composers and for performers. It summarizes a lot of the things we do.”

The Family Concert is a one-hour event, performed without intermission. Children are welcome, and tickets are $8 for students and children and $12 for adults. To purchase them, visit http://www.mondaviarts.org or call (530) 754-2787.

Seating is unreserved.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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