Concert Review

Austin American-Statesman Austin, TX April 2, 2012

Friday’s Austin Symphony Orchestra concert wasted no time, starting the night with solo cellist Bion Tsang and Dvorak’s “Cello Concerto in B Minor.”

For Tsang, an [associate] professor of cello at the Univesity of Texas, this was his debut with the hometown symphony and conductor Peter Bay. And Tsang certainly made an impression.

The ASO sounded gorgeous right out of the gates, clear, confident notes from the woodwinds and brass. Their exposition could have gone on, uninterrupted.

So it was remarkable how the character of the music changed when the cello started in.

If some cellists play across strings like silk, Bion Tsang plays with “crunch.” There is a meatiness to his playing as he pulls through Dvorak’s double stops and big ringing chords.

It’s no less beautiful — Tsang is nimble in the delicate upper register — it just adds a kind of stylized weight to his playing.

At times Tsang’s interpretation seemed a little tricky for the orchestra’s soloists to align with. Tsang held on for a perilously long time to the central melody’s climactic half note, nearly undermining its power. But Tsang never went too far. Rather, it felt like a modern reading of a well-tread piece, one that kept the crowd on the edge of its seat.

The Concerto’s second movement is one of the most arresting pieces of music ever written for the cello. Its climax is so devastating you almost don’t want the third movement to come.

It was a credit to Bay and the symphony that they managed to keep up the piece’s energy right to the last notes.

It was Tsang’s night. Given the choice, most of us would rather see a performance like Tsang’s — one that refuses to play it safe. This tactic can be messy, but it can also feel dangerously alive.

By Luke Quinton

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