Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander will bring young piano protégé George Li to play with the Akron Symphony Saturday, but he doesn’t refer to the 16-year-old as a child prodigy.
“Child prodigies have a certain kind of mentality that they’re showing off. They’re more about performance than they are about artistic creation,” Zander said. “George has no interest in showing off whatsoever. He’s all about the music and about the art and about making great music. He’s the equal of the orchestra. He’s not coming as a child. He’s coming as a fully formed artist.”
Li will play Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Akron Symphony at E.J. Thomas Hall Saturday as part of the symphony’s 60th anniversary celebration. The Ben, Beethoven and Brahms concert marks the third time that Zander — a former teacher of Akron Symphony Music Director Christopher Wilkins — has conducted in Akron.
“I just love that orchestra. I love their attitude, I love their spirit, I love their playing,” Zander said.
Saturday’s program will begin with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture in C minor and end with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, both dark, tragic works. Contrasted in the middle will be young Li playing the Beethoven concerto, which Zander described as “pure effervescence and beauty.”
Li has been making waves everywhere he goes. He won Oberlin’s 2010 Cooper International Piano Competition and played with the Cleveland Orchestra as one of the finalists, garnering a full, four-year scholarship to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The same year, he won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, earning him debut recitals in New York, Washington and Boston, which he performed just last week.
Last summer, Li toured as a soloist with Zander and the New England Conservatory Youth Orchestra to Austria and Prague, where he played Beethoven’s Ninth. He also was selected as one of two recipients of the 2012 Gilmore Young Artist Award, the youngest ever to receive it.
Amid all this excitement, the high school junior still sits in class to learn about music at the New England Conservatory of Walnut Hills, outside Boston, where Zander is artistic director. Zander said Li is the most remarkable young artist the school has seen in the 45 years he’s been there.
“George Li is a phenomenon. He’s a profoundly talented musician and great artist in the body of a rather short 16-year-old,” Zander said. “People are dumbfounded when he walks out.”
He added, “If you close your eyes there’s absolutely no way of telling that you’re not in the presence of one of the great pianists in the world.”
Li is different from other young technical virtuosos because of his deep artistry, the conductor said. In a recent concerto performance with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, he brought the first flutist to tears.
Zander promises it will be a treat for Akron audiences to catch him on his way up. What’s next for Li? A distinguished career as a major artist, both as a soloist and a chamber music player, his mentor said.
Tickets for Ben, Beethoven and Brahms, which starts at 8 p.m., are $20 to $50. Call 330-535-8131, 330-972-7570 or see www.akronsympony.org.
When you get the rare chance, it’s fun to see a brand-new piece of theater that’s still in the making.
Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical was given a developmental staged reading Monday night at Weathervane, where a hardworking local cast came together on what’s usually an off night for the theater. The show was headlined by TV and stage actor Hal Linden, performing for the third time in a staged reading of the musical. He will next appear in the piece in New Orleans.
Linden, well known for his role as Barney Miller in the TV show of that name, was a charming host and narrator. He had a rich, resonant speaking voice and also got to sing a bit as Silas Snobden, owner of a haberdashery. Linden, who got his start in musical theater, is closely tied to the Mainstreet Musicals project, based in New York, founded by friend and fellow Broadway actor Tim Jerome. Jerome himself introduced the special theatrical event at Weathervane Monday.
Shine! is an old-fashioned rags-to-riches story that reminds me a bit of Oliver! with its street urchins (this time older teens) and a requisite brute who’s the main villain. The musical about a young shoeshine is created by Richard Seff, Lee Goldsmith and Roger Anderson.
Eric van Baars and Connor Simpson made a humorous pair as the story’s lesser villains — employees in Snobden’s haberdashery who are jealous of new favorite Richard Hunter. Local young talent included the handsome and vocally pleasing Kent State junior Michael Glavan, who starred as Richard, and Teddy Mansfield, a Miller South fifth-grader who seemed fearless onstage as young Rob.
The benefit performance, which supported Mainstreet Musicals and Weathervane, was a festive, fun evening. Thanks to director Marc Moritz for presenting Weathervane with the opportunity to work with Mainstreet Musicals.
More arts happenings
• The University of Akron’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Great God Brown will continue at 8 tonight through Saturday. James Slowiak is directing the 1926 piece, one of O’Neill’s most mystical works. The cast uses stylistic devices including masks, puppets, musicians and a formal physical approach to acting based loosely on Asian theater techniques.
The play will be performed at Sandefur Theatre, Guzzetta Hall, 139 E. Buchtel Ave. Cost is $12; $10 for seniors, faculty, staff and alumni; $6 for students. A pre-performance talk will be at 7:15 p.m. Friday in Room 299. Call 330-972-7895 or see www.uakron.edu/dtaa.
• The University of Akron also is hosting a flute festival beginning at noon Sunday at Guzzetta Hall. The afternoon will include concerts, master classes, the High School Young Artist Competition and exhibitors. Cost is $15. Call 330-972-6575 or see www.neofa.org.
• Cesear’s Forum’s production of Joanna McClelland’s Trying will continue through Dec. 10 at Kennedy’s Down Under at PlayhouseSquare, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. The semiautobiographical play follows the evolving working relationship between Judge Biddle — FDR’s attorney general — and his young secretary. The show stars Glenn Colerider and Tricia Bestic, who is making her Cesear’s Forum debut. Cost is $15. Call 216-241-6000 or see www.playhousesquare.org.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.