The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

Review: Zhang Guoping in Concert
Concert at San Francisco Bay Area Accordion Club

Zhang Guoping: Piano Accordion


Happy Sheng: Chinese
Goddess Scattering Flowers: Chinese Folk
Celebrating Our New Life: Chinese
Happy Woman Soldiers: Chinese
Peking Opera: Chinese
Pizzicato Polka: Strauss
Rassypucha: Gridin
Italian Medley: Gala Rini
Dizzy Fingers: P. Diero
Magnante Boogie: C. Magnante
Trish Tratsch: Strauss
Sabre Dance: Katchaturian
Jolly Caballero: Frosini
Stars & Stripes Forever: Magnante arrangement
Beer Barrel Polka: American

review date: January, 2001

Review by Robert Karl Berta :

I had the pleasure of attending a concert by Zhang Gouping at the San Francisco Bay Area Accordion Club on Wednesday, January 10th, 2001. I first heard of this superlative accordionist when I received one of his CDs for review for The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. web site. The combination of technique and musicality was very impressive....and the selections were thrilling. There were several of the common concert accordion selections from all the classical composers, the Russian great accordionists, as well as some gorgeous Chinese compositions. Later I had the opportunity to review another CD of Zhang' devoted to the music of Scarlatti. Again I was blown away by the wonderful musical interpretations and outstanding playing. Evidently others agreed with me. I was delighted to find that Petosa Accordion would underwrite a tour of the US. Since Zhang lives in Beijing, China it was no easy task to arrange this tour evidently and a special thanks to Petosa for undertaking this project. Having arranged for my own daughter to attend a conference in Beijing last summer, I can appreciate the dedication it took for Petosa to put this together...THANKS GUYS!!!!!

Since one of the concert stops was in San Francisco I jumped at the chance to review that concert. An audience of about 60 people attended on a particularly stormy night. Rather than our normal large meeting location we met at a local Moose lodge which provided a more intimate session in keeping with the number of people and no microphones so we could appreciate the pure natural sound of the instrument. Having heard three of his CDs I knew we would be in for a interesting mix of musical selections.

Before I start the review it might be interesting to tell a little about the accordion in China. Much of this comes from Barbara-Ann Martindale who herself performed in China a few years back and has played for our club in concert also. First, the accordion is the most popular instrument in China..evidently there are millions of people who play it there. A major reason for the success of the instrument is that when the Cultural Revolution under Mao was under way, traditional orchestral instruments such as violins, woodwinds, etc. fell out of favor as instruments of the elite Westerners. Since the accordion was an instrument of the people for folk music it was raised to "approved" status. There is an excellent recent movie that documents some of this called The Red Violin that I recommend highly.

The concert was broken into three sections with a couple of intermissions. The first session consisted of a series of Chinese compositions. Having heard some of these on the CDs I was delighted that Zhang saw fit to include these in his performance. The compositions are wonderful. There were lots of interesting effects that were provided by the accordion and took advantage of the various unique attributes of the accordion such as bellows effects, registration changes, etc. As you can tell by a couple of the titles, politics does mix with music in China.

Following this Zhang turned to music that we were more familiar with. Throughout all the selections the playing was tasteful and phrased perfectly. While I have heard these pieces many times...Zhang's playing was very fresh with some new nuances I haven't heard before.

It turns out that Zhang's Aunt and Grandfather live in San Francisco. Zhang asked if we would mind if his Grandfather played two selections on harmonica. Ching Rui Wang is 80 years old and has been playing harmonica since age 10. To say he was good would be an understatement. Wow...what a talented man. He first played La Cumparsita with a spirited and excellent arrangement. Following this he played No Place Like Home, but with a very unusual trick. He explained that while a piano player or accordion player can play with two hands...a harmonic player only has one mouth. He was able to play the "right" hand with the right side of his mouth and the "left" accompaniment with the left side. It was a spectacular display of harmonica playing I have never seen before. Ching received a most deserved standing ovation accompanied by loud spirited clapping at the end of this piece.

After the second intermission Zhang returned for some more familiar tunes from the accordion repertoire so well known to accordionists. Many of these outstanding performances resulted in standing ovations and for an encore Zhang selected the inevitable Polka...Beer Barrel Polka...but you probably haven't heard it played like this before...neat!

The excellent playing made the night rush by and sadly the concert came to an end way too early. While you may not get the opportunity to hear Zhang in concert as I can purchase his CDs through The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store. You will also find reviews of four of his CDs at the Free-Reed Review.

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