Soloists shake off jitters to lead holiday 'Gift' performance
by: Jaime Valdez, Angie Zheng and Richard Chen practiced this week at the home of their piano teacher, Dorothy Fahlman. Both students will play solos during the Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s “Holiday Gift of Music” performance at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.

The one thing that Dorothy Fahlman has noticed about two of her stellar piano students is they get really jazzed in front of an audience.

In two weeks, Angie Zheng and Richard Chern will have a chance to show their mettle as they take the stage at the Mount Hood Community College Theater as part of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra's 'A Holiday Gift of Music.'

Zheng, a fifth-grader at Findley Elementary School, and Chern, a freshman at Westview High School, will perform Dec. 10 as piano soloists in the orchestra's presentation of Camille Saint Saens' 'Carnival of Animals.'

And Fahlman has no doubt that their performance will be nothing short of impressive.

'When the lights go on and the curtains are drawn, that's when they turn on,' she said of her pupils at her Cedar Hills-area home. 'They grab the energy from the audience.'

Fahlman said she's watched Zheng when she performs and her eyes light up when she's on stage.

'Some students are frightened but not these two,' she said.

Even at a young age, both students already have racked up some impressive accolades.

Zheng performed with the orchestra at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in April under Niel DePonte as a winner of the Young Artist Concerto Competition, playing the Mozart Concerto in G Major.

She also received an 'Outstanding Achievement in the Performing Arts by an Elementary Student' award from the Beaverton Arts Commission. In addition, she studies cello and is a member of the Conservatory Orchestra of the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

Chern has won numerous awards from the Oregon Music Teachers Association-sponsored piano competition, passing with honors all 10 levels on the association's syllabus. He also has completed a harpsichord master class with instructor Bill Crane. In addition to music, Chern is an award winner at the 2006 Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Search.

Fahlman said several things set the two students apart from other musicians of their age.

Of Zheng, Fahlman says: 'She has the ability to look at that page and immediately transform that into music.'

Of Chern, she says: 'The thing Richard does the very best, he has this inner sense about 20th century sound.'

Lots in common

Chern has performed solo pieces, doing well in the past.

'I'm just really excited to play with the orchestra since this is my first time,' he said.

The two-piano piece they play with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra will last 20 to 30 minutes.

Zheng is looking forward to the Columbia Symphony Orchestra concert.

'I think it's going to be a good experience,' she said. 'It's rare to play two pianos with an orchestra.'

Despite a few years age difference between the pair - Chern is 14, Zheng is 10 - share several things in common.

Both began on the piano at age 4.

'My mom teaches music so when I was small, I liked to listen to it a lot,' said Zheng.

Chern said he immediately took to playing the piano, but it wasn't until his first recital that he found out how much he enjoyed being in front of an audience.

'After I finished my first piece … (I discovered) I really liked performing,' he said.

Both also practice religiously, Zheng for at least two hours a day and on weekends as well.

Chern has the same schedule but with a little more flexibility on the weekends.

Zheng says she looks forward to the practices.

Chern does too but admits, 'There are times I wish I was playing a game. I like video games, board games, sports.'

In her spare time, Zheng said she enjoys reading to and playing with her 5-year-old brother, Patrick. She also enjoys reading science fiction novels.

Chern likes sports, computer programming, creative writing and other endeavors. He also excels at math and was the first-place winner in the state for the 21st American Mathematics Competition for the eighth grade.

For the future, Zheng said she'd like to pursue a career as a pianist.

Chern said he'd like to be a professional musician as well but has other possible career dreams such as being a sports star, lawyer or possibly a brain surgeon.

'You guys are smart enough to be anything you want to be,' Fahlman told both of them during a recent interview.

The students are fans of Fahlman as well.

Chern said she not only teaches him musical discipline but how to use that discipline in other aspects of life.

'She makes our lessons fun,' Zheng said of Fahlman. 'She's always patient.'

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