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Music to soothe a economic breast

TWO of the finest orchestras in the world are heading to Shanghai to divert music lovers from the recession depression blues. Nie Xin takes the baton.

Despite the worldwide financial downturn, classical music lovers in Shanghai are still enjoying riches. Looming in May are two top-level concerts from two world-famous orchestras ?? the Staatskapelle Dresden from Germany and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from the United States.

The Staatskapelle will feature pianist Emanuel Ax, one of cellist Yo-Yo Ma's favorite partners, at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center on May 6 in Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel," "Burleske in D Minor for Piano and Orchestra" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra."

Polish-born Ax is renowned for his poetic interpretation and virtuosity. For the opening gala of the New York Philharmonic in September 2006, Ax appeared with Yefim Bronfman in Mozart's "Concerto for Two Pianos" conducted by Lorin Maazel.

Recent performance highlights included tours with long-standing colleagues, cellist Ma and Bronfman; a tour that included concerts in Guangzhou, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei; and a tour of the US with the Dresden Staatskapelle and conductor Myung-Whun Chung.

"I love Strauss so much. I feel sorry that he did not write more for piano. It is extremely special and exciting to do Strauss with the Dresden Staatskapelle, because they have such a great Strauss tradition," says Ax.

The ensemble retains its international reputation as a "Strauss Orchestra." Richard Strauss had close links to the orchestra for more than 60 years. Nine of his operas were premiered in Dresden, including "Salome," "Elektra" and "Der Rosenkavalier." He also dedicated his "Alpine Symphony" to the Staatskapelle.

"Of course, I am very honored to be with the Staatskapelle and also very excited to be in Shanghai for the very first time," adds Ax.

Founded in 1548, the Staatskapelle Dresden is one of the oldest orchestras in the world with 461 years of history. Fine music directors and internationally acclaimed players have characterized the orchestra. Previous directors included Heinrich Schutz, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Fritz Reiner, Fritz Busch, Herbert Blomstedt and Giuseppe Sinopoli.

As well as Strauss, many other famous composers have written works that were either dedicated to the orchestra or first performed by it, including Vivaldi, Schumann, Wagner, Liszt and Hindemith.

The Staatskapelle's last performance in Shanghai was in November 2006, when it was conducted by South Korean Chung. It was a great success. The audience gave a standing ovation and the performance ended with Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 1" as an encore.

"This is exactly what any orchestra dreams of, and I hope this time the dream will be realized by me," says Fabio Luisi, the Italian-born conductor, who took over as music director for the 2007-2008 season, and became principal conductor.

"We hope to transmit the spirit of Richard Strauss, the sweetness and the originality of his work to our Shanghai audience," adds Luisi.

After a first meeting with the Staatskapelle at the Salzburg Festival in 2002, Luisi has subsequently conducted major works in Dresden. These include Puccini's "Turandot," Strauss' "Die Liebe der Danae" and Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis." In September 2007 he undertook an extremely successful European tour with the Staatskapelle and Helene Grimaud.

Maestro Luisi performed with Ax several years ago in Melbourne, Australia, and they recorded the Burleske last October.

"Ax is one of the most versatile and exceptional pianists in the world today - he doesn't make music, he is music and he has a very big, almost childish joy in making music," says Luisi.

Ten days after the Staatskapelle's concert, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will perform at the same venue with pianist Garrick Ohlsson playing Beethoven. It will be the closing performance of the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's (PSO) coming concert in Shanghai has had to overcome sponsorship difficulties to make the trip. "Pittsburgh is an orchestra with a great tradition. Even the Depression in the 1930s didn't stop it performing," says Marcie Solomon, the operations manager for the orchestra.

The concert will include Beethoven's "Piano Concert No. 5" and "Symphony No. 7."

"The Emperor" will replace the "Piano Concert No. 4" which had been listed.

"Compared with the peaceful and elegant 'No. 4 Concerto,' 'The Emperor' will better inspire the audience in this current economic situation," says Solomon.

Ohlsson will be the soloist. Since his triumph as the winner of the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition, he has established himself worldwide as a musician of interpretive and technical prowess. As a student of Claudio Arrau, Ohlsson became noted for his masterly performances of Mozart and Beethoven.

For more than 100 years, the PSO has been an essential part of Pittsburgh's cultural landscape. Today the orchestra remains among the world's top orchestras, and has been named by some as the "Greatest American Orchestra."

Staatskapelle Dresden concert

Date: May 6, 7:30pm

Tickets: 180-1,980 yuan

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert

Date: May 16, 7:30pm

Tickets: 180-1,680 yuan

Venue: Concert Hall of Shanghai Oriental Art Center, 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong


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