Musical Musings

An Interview with Sarasota Music Festival Artist Angie Zhang

Angie ZhangAn alumna of the 2018 Sarasota Music Festival, pianist Angie Zhang is currently pursuing both a Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance and a Master of Music in Fortepiano Performance at the University of Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Music with Honors and Master of Music at The Juilliard School. This year, Zhang returns to SMF, bringing her “warmly expressive, sensitive, and polished” artistry (New York Concert Review) to the third Festival Concert, Dedications. In this interview, she shares treasured SMF memories, what makes SMF unlike any other music festival, and insights into her recital program for SMF 2021.

What inspired you to apply to become a Sarasota Music Festival fellow?

As a pianist, I think the Sarasota Music Festival is one of the most intimate festivals one can attend, not only to play amazing chamber works with very high caliber string and woodwind players, but also have the opportunity to coach with some of the most amazing soloists, orchestral musicians, and pedagogues from all over the world. The amazing faculty is what initially drew me.

After I arrived in Sarasota and got a feel for the festival, I immediately saw the magical crystals that really made the place work.

‘Magical crystals!’ Please tell us more about those…

I clearly remember a very nice conversation with Mr. Kahane when we were riding up the elevator at the Hyatt and also remember deep talks about life, not just music, with certain faculty members even in the lobby. Those moments really stuck with me, and I’ve kept their words of wisdom in the back of my head. That’s what really made my experience there so memorable: the unplanned, very spontaneous moments of the festival.

I think, as musicians and artists, we need those moments to just bond and be human. That is what fuels our music at the end of the day, which is why I think our concerts were just so electrifying. And we sensed it from the audience as well. Seeing sold-out concerts every single performance, with the amazing community of Sarasota and surrounding towns, was really something special.

I still keep in touch with some of the audience members who I met at the festival. Some have become close friends. Obviously, it's always the people who make up the place—like, the place is special because of the people, and that is especially true in Sarasota. 

Is there anything else about the program that you found unique, particularly in how it shaped your musicianship?

Something I really liked was the Lisztian masterclass approach. We never had private lessons; everyone's lessons were masterclasses, and all the piano fellows were required to be in Holley Hall for them. You can take away just as much listening to a masterclass as you would at your own lesson.

Seeing faculty members not only in the penguin suits that they wear when they go onstage for concerts, but just in regular clothes, or hanging out on the beach was wonderful. I think the festival really gets rid of certain boundaries and borders. It allows everyone there to really be present and destroy any sense of hierarchy, because the faculty expect the best of the fellows, and the fellows are able to see the faculty as people. Breaking the hierarchy ultimately creates that sense of camaraderie and feeling that we're all there for the same purpose, which is to learn—to always learn—to make music, to be creative and unafraid of taking risks

Tell us about the program of solo piano works that you’ve chosen to bring to our reimagined Sarasota Music Festival this year.

I'm really excited to share Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, because it's an underplayed work but so beautiful and well-written. It's also in F sharp minor, which is not as common a key for composers to write in.

Then, I have decided to play another work by a female composer, Caroline Shaw. Gustave le Gray is a fairly new piece. It was premiered at Princeton University, and my hometown is Princeton, so there's a connection there. When I collaborated with The Juilliard School dance company and the internationally-acclaimed Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton on this piece, I remember a lot of people in the audience were truly emotionally touched. It is so beautiful and very evocative. It's not a technically difficult piece; I think, if anything, it's a piece that really speaks about humanity. Gustave le Gray was a photographer, so from the title we know some of Shaw’s influence. She also injects a Chopin mazurka in the middle of the piece, and that hamburger approach is really cool. So not only was Gustave le Gray a huge influence, but Chopin, and specifically Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4, was an actual compositional influence. My background of working with dancers on this piece has really allowed me to think about it in a new way, as more than a solo piano work. 

Following that, I'll be presenting Chopin's Third Sonata, Op. 58. It’s an almost 30-minute piece, but it's definitely one that’s well-loved in the canon and a real crowd-pleaser. It has a really beautiful slow movement and one of my favorite last movements ever in a Sonata.

Purchase a $40 Festival Streaming Pass to enjoy Angie Zhang’s recital and all other programs of SMF 2021 from the comfort of home. Streaming begins on June 24, with unlimited viewing for up to 30 days.

Click Here for SMF Streaming Passes

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