The Breckenridge Music Festival and Summit Music and Arts present pianist Lei Weng at 4 p.m. Sunday at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon as part of the 2013 Encore winter series.
An internationally renowned pianist, Weng moved to Colorado to serve as assistant professor of piano at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in 2007. He has been playing piano for almost 30 years, since he was 7 years old. His musical influences are as international as his career, and have changed as he evolved.
As a teenager and in college, he said, "I fell in love with big Romantic composers such as Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Liszt." In recent years, Mozart, Debussy, Brahms and Beethoven have called his attention, in addition to composers outside of traditional Western Europe such as Russia (Prokofiev and the modern Nikolai Kapustin), Spain (Issac Albeniz and Enrique Granados) and the U.S. (Barber, Liebermann), he said.
Weng also named Chinese composers as influences, including Wang Jianzhong, who composed and arranged traditional Chinese folk music and songs for piano and whom Weng called "one of the most influential composers in China for decades" as well as He Luting, who began writing music for piano at the start of the 20th century.
On Sunday, Weng will perform classical masterpieces such as Chopin's Second Sonata, "Suite Bergamasque" by Debussy and Beethoven's "Waldstein Sonata."
The program opens with "Claire de Lune," the third movement of Debussy's "Suite Bergamasque." A celebrated piano piece, it has been featured in movie soundtracks including "Ocean's Eleven," "Seven Years in Tibet," "Twilight" and Disney's "Fantasia."
"Waldstein Sonata," considered one of Beethoven's most technically challenging works, marks a breakthrough period when Beethoven acquired a new Erard piano with an extended range and began experimenting with larger-scale musical forms such as symphonies.
The four movements of Chopin's Sonata in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 "Funeral March," are so different from one another that critics questioned the sonata's unity. Schumann described it as if Chopin had "bound together four of his maddest children."
Weng will also play his favorite compositions for piano by Chinese composers, including "The Shepherd Boy and Piccolo," the first Chinese piano piece to win an international prize.
Asia's blooming classical music scene may come as a surprise to westerners. "Parents have been deeming the classical music education - particularly popular in piano - as one of the most important educations for their children," Weng said, "and thus investing huge amount of time, energy and finance to support their children's music education. This is probably why we have seen more and more Asian musicians being quite successful in the music world."
In 2011, Weng founded the Colorado International Piano Academy (CIPA), for which he serves as director, on the campus of UNC. He invites pianists and teachers from around the world, along with international students, to take part in a two-week music festival featuring concerts, master classes, presentations and lectures. CIPA also does an international piano competition and other student/teacher enrichment sessions.
Still, Weng said, "While I am completely dedicated to my students and teaching at UNC, I maintain an actively international performing and teaching career during the school breaks, which also benefits me tremendously as a piano professor."
"We first met Weng this summer," said Olivia Grover-Hill, spokesperson for the Breckenridge Music Festival (BMF). "There was a piano competition in Denver whose prize was to play at the Breckenridge Music Festival and one of his students won the contest. We had the opportunity to listen to his recordings and we were taken aback by his quality and wonderful interpretation."
"The Breckenridge Musical Festival, for both winter and summer series, has certain goals and standards," she said. "First, we work hard to bring high quality musicians; and second, we aim to offer a diverse programming to our audiences. Weng fits in really well into what we're looking for, for his high quality and the diversity that he brings."
"We hope opportunities like this bring the listener back to an appreciation of classical music, which offers something for everyone," Grover-Hill said. "These events allow people to have the unique opportunity to see high quality musicians who are among the best in the world. For that reason they are also not cheap to bring to our community - and people will pay only $15 to see them here," she said.
Sunday marks Weng's first performance in Summit County, though he is scheduled to return this summer for the 2013 Breckenridge Music Festival, in which he will perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 as a featured soloist. As for Sunday's concert, he said, "I am excited to share great piano music from different parts of the world with our audience in Dillon."