Event: Student Cello Recital
Artist: Zexun Shen, Cello;Pei-Hsuan Tsai, Piano
Place: Mannes School of Music , New York City
Date: November 4, 2010
You probably haven’t heard of Zexun Shen. He is a cellist whose student recital I attended at the Mannes School of Music last night. The 19 year old cellist from Shanghai, China played a formidable repertoire that included Bach’s “Suite No. 6 in D Major for solo cello”, Brahms’ “Sonata No 2 in F major op. 99”, and Schumann’s “Three Fantasy Pieces op. 73” and the doleful but lyrical “’Concerto in A Minor, op. 129”, respectively. I’m putting forth these titles as if I knew these pieces already, but in truth, I was not really familiar with them, except maybe for the Bach Suite. Mr. Shen, a student at Mannes School of Music, which is part of the New School, showed great virtuosity and elicited expressive tones from his rich-sounding cello. Double-stops, triple-stops, bowed arpeggios: no technical challenge was too difficult for Mr. Shen to overcome. In fact he sounded more like an experienced professional than a student. At 19 years of aged, he has his whole life ahead to make a mark on the world of classical cello playing.
During intermission, I examined the notice boards of the Mannes School. East Asian names abounded. There’s no denying that Chinese, Korean and Japanese musicians have attained a level of playing that has enabled them to become part of many a world-class ensemble and to make names for themselves as concert soloists. Something about the Asian work ethic is involved here: practice, practice, practice, and then more practice.
Mr. Shen brought to mind a pianist from Shanghai ( now a New Yorker) whose shows I sometimes backed up on the cruise ships (“sometimes” because most of the time he used backing tracks.) The pianist was an excellent player, no doubt about it, and he went over well with the audience, but because he had to talk to the passengers, he came off as pandering by talking with a somewhat affected Oriental accent. I also found the compositions that he played as part of his act trite and schmaltzy. Yet when he launched into the Tchaikovsky concerto – or the truncated bits he played because obviously you can’t play a whole concerto on a cruise ship especially when bingo is in 40 minutes time – you could sense how much of a virtuoso he was.
Judging from his quiet demeanor, I don’t think Zexun Shen from Shanghai was in any danger of falling into pandering to anyone. These were difficult pieces that he played. When I closed my eyes to listen more closely and catch any hint of the awkward or the amateurish in his interpretation and technique, I discerned none.
His piano accompanist was Pei-Hsuan Tsai, and she was clear and expressive as well in her keyboard work.
For an encore, Mr. Shen played the difficult but delightful “Zapateado”by Sarasate. Originally written for the violin, this transcription for the cello as played by Mr. Shen was just as fun to listen to.
Overall, an excellent, enjoyable performance by a gifted cellist!