Stumbling off a flight from Hong Kong, your correspondent was hoping to make a discreet entrance to the Flushing Town Hall for Haochen Zhang's recital. No such luck: the flight may have been early, but this conspicuously non-Chinese, luggage-schlepping blogger still faced a huge, bemused crowd on arrival. Lined up all the way down the hall and around the corner, the overwhelmingly Chinese turnout had waited for an hour already and would wait an hour more.
Their enthusiasm spilled into Zhang's performance of 24 Chopin Preludes, Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, and Liszt's Rhapsodie espagnole. In this Chinese immigrant enclave, the packed hall lent the show more of a Peking Opera feel (chatting, kids running up the aisles, occasional cell phone bleeps, overzealous clapping) than there was at Zhang's performance in the Chinese capital two weeks ago. During the Chopin, Zhang almost had to fight off the applause during each pause, keeping his hands dramatically raised to signal that no, the piece was not over yet, before launching into the subsequent prelude. As a symbol of young, spectacular success, they loved him; by the second half, everyone had settled down to really listen to the music, too.
Maybe it wasn't just the venue's location; the recent injury of Taiwanese pitcher-hero Chien-Ming Wang has kept him off the Yankees' lineup and thus out of the World Series, making decisions on the evening's entertainment that much easier for locals. Whatever the reason, non–East Asians were barely in evidence. English-language announcements from Carnegie staff were translated into Mandarin and Cantonese, and one got the feeling that many in the crowd were recent transplants grateful for the interpreter. But no English—or Chinese, or any other language—was needed to appreciate Zhang's performance, which by the end had a restless crowd fully at attention.
Posted by Nick Frisch, 2009–2010 Fulbright Fellow researching classical music developments in China