Local pianist takes on challenging compositions

The performance will feature Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in F Minor and Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu resident and world-renowned classical pianist Yongmei Hu will present two of the most notoriously difficult piano scores on record in her concert at Pepperdine University’s Smother’s Theatre this week. It’s part of the young maestro’s challenge to cast her professional net as widely as possible.

The performance will feature Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in F Minor and Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28. The Brahms is an especially difficult piece written early in the composer’s career.

“This sonata is so difficult, it is very rarely played in concert,” Hu said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “Only one woman has eve recorded it in the world and it’s written like a symphony with five long movements.”

Hu characterized the second movement alone as being like a romance novel.

“It’s very romantic,” said Hu with a sigh.

Chopin wrote his Preludes in Majorca, off the coast of Spain, where he had fled with author George Sand and her children to escape harsh Parisian winters. When they were first published, critics were confused at the brief, apparently unrelated nature of the pieces, asking, “Preludes to what?”

Today, most musicologists recognize them as perhaps Chopin’s claim to immortality.

“No one has played the Brahms and the Chopin in the same program because they are so challenging,” Hu said. “They go wildly from mood to mood and physically, it’s very fast and exciting.”

Hu, however, doesn’t live in a world peopled with 19th century consumptive composers. She has performed in highly divergent concerts in the past few years¬‚’Äîplaying with the celebrated Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra in China, with the Scottsdale Symphony Orchestra and at Carnegie Hall, as well as in benefit concerts designed to appeal to a wide audience.

Most recently, she played with rocker Melissa Etheridge in a fundraiser for Evelyn Lauder’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

“This was produced by the Hard Rock International Foundation and was really fun,” Hu said. “We started in Times Square, then took a pink bus to JFK (Airport) and took a pink plane to Washington D.C. Melissa played and sang on the plane for a bunch of breast cancer survivors.”

That experience led to an introduction to Dennis D’Amico, a guitarist, composer and music producer who has organized concerts for the Garland Appeal, a project to commemorate the life of Linda McCartney, the late wife of Paul McCartney, and to raise money for breast cancer research.

D’Amico, in turn, has produced concerts for a number of jazz artists and asked Hu to appear with comedian Chevy Chase (an accomplished jazz pianist), Kenny Rankin and Bobby Caldwell in a fundraiser in Phoenix in 2008. A collaboration was born, with Hu providing the classical influence and D’Amico et al. bringing multiple talents together for fundraising concerts and symposiums.

D’Amico’s Dream Makers Music produced Hu’s first CD, which will be released at the Pepperdine concert (Hu will be signing CDs after the concert).

“I met Yongmei through Chevy Chase, who told me she was really good,” D’Amico said in phone interview while at the airport. “When she plays onstage, it’s such a whole new world, I knew we should work together.”

Hu and D’Amico collaborated on a recent project to produce classical music for a multicultural children’s foundation called Alphabet Kids. Hu is also set to head the classical brand for D’Amico’s You Rock Media Group – a new production company with a focus on charity.

“After I heard Yongmei play, I knew I wanted to do a record with her,” D’Amico said. “So I said, what do you want to do and she said, ‘Something with Schubert and Mussorgsky.’ Well, it’s not my usual thing, but I believe a producer has to open it up to the artists because they will select what they do best. Yongmei’s involvement with You Rock will only get younger kids into classical music. Which is what we need to do for kids’ education today.”

Hu, whose piano instruction for children and adults is heavily in demand, couldn’t agree more.

“At my Pepperdine concert, parents can bring their children and get a free ticket for them with one adult purchased ticket,” Hu said. “This is my hometown preview for a world tour and I want plenty of children to come and enjoy this wonderful music.”

Yongmei Hu performs Brahms and Chopin in the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine on Friday, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be obtained by calling 310.506.4522 or through Ticketmaster.

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