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RSO, Ocotillo both end seasons with pianists

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Daniel Hsu, left, will perform with the Roswell Symphony Orchestra on April 21. Pianist and composer Ann Sweeten will perform at the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center in Artesia on April 24. (Submitted Photos)

Lovers of piano music can hear live performances by two renowned pianists four days apart as the Roswell Symphony Orchestra and Artesia Arts Council finish their 2017-18 seasons with pianists.

On April 21, Daniel Hsu, a 2017 Cliburn Bronze Medalist, will perform Lugwig van Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 with the RSO. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Pearson Auditorium on the New Mexico Military Institute campus.

On April 23, Ann Sweeten, who composers all of her piano compositions, will perform as a soloist at the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center, 310 W. Main St. in Artesia.

Daniel Hsu

During the 2016-17 season, Hsu performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major with the RSO. The piece is known for it’s melodic second movement. It is a rare occasional when the RSO features the same soloist two years back-to-back. However, Hsu is back because of the arrangement RSO has with The Cliburn, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the annual Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Hsu (his last name is pronounced “shoe”) is a year older now, which means he is only 20. He made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 2017 and some of his recent highlights include the release of his first solo album by Decca Gold and a performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2016.

A native of the San Francisco Bay area, Hsu began his studies at age 6. He made his concerto debut with the Fremont (California) Symphony Orchestra at age 8 and his recital debut at the Steinway Society of the Bay Area at age 9. At age 10, he was accepted into Curtis Institute of Music along with his two older siblings.

In an interview with the Roswell Daily Record, Hsu said he is looking forward to working again with the RSO and conductor John Farrer.

“I had a good time when we worked together,” he said.

Hsu said he ran into Farrer immediately after the Cliburn competition, where they spoke about his return to Roswell.

Asked whether Beethoven ranks among his favorite composers, Hsu said his favorite composers vary from month to month, but Beethoven is a consistently in the top three.

Beethoven was know for breaking conventions. For example, one of his most famous compositions, the Moonlight Sonata (Piano Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor), starts with the adagio (slow) movement and is this followed by the allegro (fast) movement, a complete reversal of the conventional sonata-allegro format.

In his third symphony, the Eroica, Beethoven shocks his listeners with two crashing E-flat major chords before the melody starts.

Beethoven again breaks convention in the his fourth piano concerto, having the piano begin before the orchestra.

Hsu commented about the concerto: “In that sense it’s kind of remarkable how the piano starts out with this incredible thing then the symphony comes in with a different harmony. Having the soloist come out first is really quite remarkable.”

Asked to compare Beethoven with his contemporary, Mozart, Hsu said, “I would say Beethoven is very different from Mozart. Mozart is also a genius. Beethoven in his later works is more complex emotionally. Sonically, it’s an evolved, different sound with different character. Mozart seemed to stick to tradition while Beethoven strayed away from it. Without Beethoven, classical music would have gone in a different direction.”

Along with his passion for music, Hsu also is a fan of Marvel comics.

Asked which Marvel character he liked to be, Hsu doesn’t choose a superhero like Spider-Man or Captain America.

Instead, he picks Groot, a tree-like character that appears in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” flicks. Although Groot only says two words in each movie, “I’m Groot,” Hsu said those two words encompass several different meanings.

Ann Sweeten

Sweeten lives in Salem, Massachusetts, which is north of Boston.

Similar to the way Roswell’s history with an alleged flying saucer crash attracts tourists, Salem’s infamy for the 1692 and 1693 witch trials draws tourists for the entire month of October, Sweeten said.

Despite all the hubbub over the witch trials, Sweeten told the Roswell Daily Record she loves the area because it is only a half-hour from downtown Boston, close to the mountains and even closer to the sea shore.

Though Sweeten’s piano music may sound improvised, she said it is all composed.

“It is all written down. I am classically trained,” she said. “But there is a bending of rhythms of tempos and a blending of many genres. Like any artist, I will play in the moment.”

Sweeten said her writing influences come from her exposure to various arts. She also is trained in dance and musical theater.

As an actress, she has starred in such roles as Aldonza (“Man of La Mancha”), Sister Amnesia (“Nunsense”), Miss Mona (“Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”) and Velma Kelly (“Chicago”).

Sweeten did a two-year stint as female front and lyricist to the pop/rock band Fallout. Then she began appearing on cruise ships, in cabaret clubs and resorts, playing and singing a wide range of material including jazz, pop, folk, new age and Broadway music.

A few of her favorite classical composers are Edvard Grieg, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy.

“I’m a big fan of the Romantic and Impressionist eras,” she said. “I also am a big fan of (Stephen) Sondheim and (Leonard) Bernstein. They all have had a big influence on me.”

In 1997, Sweeten’s career took a life-changing turn when she started introducing original material to her set lists.

She said the response was overwhelming.

“By the third album in 2000, people started writing to me about the healing power of the music,” she said. “After the third album, my music was really taking off and there was so much spiritual reward. There was nothing that could remotely touch that.”

Sweeten now produces her music with Will Ackerman, an acoustic guitarist and the former owner of the Windham Hill independent record label.

Founded in the late 1970s, Windham Hill recorded an eclectic mix of acoustic, folk and new age music. One of the label’s most popular artists is pianist George Winston, whose “December” album is certified triple Platinum.

Ackerman sold the label to BMG in 1992. Sweeten said she met Ackerman in 2006 after he moved from the West Coast to Vermont.

On her recordings, Sweeten often includes other instruments with the piano like cello and English horn.

In the beginning, she said she wrote all of the arrangements but will now often use a group of musicians who work with Ackerman.

Rather than having a strict score that the musicians must follow note-for-note, Sweeten said she lets them “weave out melodies and create texture and color.”

She added: “I am a soloist. I think it’s just kind of fun to bring in a cello on a weepy piece. I like to punch up whatever that emotional appeal is in the piece, whether it’s a cello or an English horn. I like to punch the mood rather than take any kind of center stage.”

Those she works with an ensemble on many of her recordings, Sweeten will perform solo on April 23.

For ticket information for the RSO concert, call 575-623 – 5882 or visit roswellsymphony.org.

For ticket information for the Artesia concert, call 575-746-4212 or visit artesiaartscouncil.com.

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.