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Young violinist makes a splash with the DSO

October 13, 2008

A young Chinese violinist named Tianwa Yang, virtually unknown in the United States, swept into Orchestra Hall to play with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Thursday night and—I swear—in two passes of the bow changed my perception of the landscape of violin playing in the world today.

By the time she had finished her grand-scaled, probing and drop-dead gorgeous turn through Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, the 21-year-old Yang had announced herself as the most important new violinist to come on the scene in many a year.

Before the evening was out, the DSO under its former music director Gunther Herbig had made quite a statement of its own, delivering an energized and towering performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor. More about that in a moment. But first, a few rhapsodic thoughts on that petite fiddler with the huge sound, Tianwa Yang.

She was a classic prodigy, winning a slew of competitions in her homeland before she was 12. She recorded Paganini's knuckle-breaking 24 Caprices when she was 13 and by age 16 had begun to conquer Europe, playing Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto with the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra. In 2005, she won a two-year scholarship to study chamber music in Germany. Last season brought a solo trek across Europe as she played recitals in major centers from Berlin to Paris to London.

It appears that her performances here this weekend mark Yang's American orchestra debut. So if you'd care to witness something historic, catch her when she repeats the Bruch Friday morning or Saturday night.

But don't go expecting to hear a prodigy. Yang is way beyond juvenile over-achievement. What impressed me more than her impeccable technique or lustrous sound was the expressive, highly personal and intelligent way she applied those qualities. Hers was a decidedly romantic take on the Bruch Concerto, an ideal blend of singing line and dark drama.

At the end, an electrified audience whooped its approval for several minutes. Yang seemed to be quite moved by the response. She's going to see a lot of that. And with any luck, DSO audiences will see of lot of this supreme musician.

What a splendid night it was at Orchestra Hall. Herbig, the German maestro who served at the DSO's helm from 1984-90, brought his old friends and admirers the gift of Brahms' First Symphony. He needed no score; this was music in his head, heart and fiber. His reading was a masterpiece of natural pacing, indulgent lyricism and dramatic structure. The DSO answered with disciplined, fluent, radiant playing that at the close became a sunburst of life-affirming joy—vitamin C major, just the shot in the arm we could all use right now.

- Lawrence B. Johnson, The Detroit News, 10 October 2008

Tianwa Yang Biography & Discography

Tianwa Yang performs on several Naxos titles, including the highly praised first two volumes of her complete series of the complete works of Sarasate:

SARASATE: Music for Violin and Piano, Vol 1
Markus Hadulla; Tianwa Yang
SARASATE: Music for Violin and Piano, Vol 2
Markus Hadulla; Tianwa Yang
Grubert; Hadulla; Harden; Hinterhuber; Scherbakov; Yang


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