ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Rei Hotoda and joined by guest pianist Di Wu, will celebrate the Chinese New Year with "Happy Year of the Dragon," a program of music from the East and West, on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 21-22, at the Southern Theatre. Tickets are $49-$10. Visit www.promusicacolumbus.org.
Pianist Di Wu travels the world. But the Chinese-born and -raised Wu never seems to be in China for the Chinese New Year celebration. "It's funny," she said. "You think it would happen some time. But it's great to be a part of this celebration." "This celebration" would be the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra's "Happy Year of the Dragon" concerts this weekend at the Southern Theatre. The program, held just days before the start of the new year on the Chinese calendar, is highlighted by both music and musicians from China, including Wu, conductor Rei Hotoda and the music of Huang Ruo and Yao Chen. Wu performs Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 with ProMusica, a piece she described as "a beautiful and romantic piece, and so sincere." Despite growing up in a family of musicians, a musical path was never a certainty for the now-resident of New York City. Her parents - her father is a baritone singer and her mother is a dancer - started her on piano lessons at age 5, but did not choose her path for her. "It's something all Asian parents do, have their kids go and learn something," Wu told The Beat. "But it was very basic, and there was nothing said that 'We want Di to play piano only.'" "I just really liked to practice a lot," she added with a laugh. At age 14, she made her professional debut with the Beijing Philharmonic and has since joined orchestras and performed in recital around the world. She is the 2009 winner of the Van Cliburn Competition. The travel challenges her desire for routine and ability to practice regularly, but Wu finds she has learned how to be more efficient and more creative in finding an available keyboard. Conversely, she said, the travel is ideal while she's at an age where she appreciates the discovery that comes with it - discovery she compared to exploring new repertoire without limits. "I am really enjoying this life right now," she said. "I get to play all of this beautiful music." She spoke of maturing as an artist, addressing some of the most basic thoughts of the solo performer. "When you're young, you kind of have blinders on; you're so nervous and you're not aware of other things," she explained. "Now I'm aware of the energy from the audience and because you're so aware of things like that, you try to address it constantly. It's like walking a tightrope, making sure you're emotional and involved but also logical and collected." Wu said she refuses to allow this cognizance to lead her into overly showy performance. "I don't believe in changing the way I play," she said. "When you're at ease and the piano is working for you and feels like an extension of your arms and mind, that's my reward."