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The young Lady Di: Pianist Di Wu wants to bring new listeners into the classical fold.

In The Key of Di

Cabrillo College hosts a rising young star of classical piano, Di Wu.

By Scott MacClelland

Like most of us, Di Wu comes to her passion with her own set of contradictions. The gifted young pianist, who plays this Saturday as part of Cabrillo College's Distinguished Artists series, proclaims, "If you like to have fun, welcome to classical music," and promises, "You're gonna love it here!" But when asked if she is an entertainer, she becomes cautious. After all, she has risen to the top of her profession by way of American classical institutions and feels the weight of that tradition. Even with her enlightened spirit, she knows that those institutions look down their noses at providers of mere "entertainment." Therefore, she uses the word very carefully. "I know it does offend a certain group of people," she says.

The careful use of English she acquired only since arriving in this country from her native China in 1999. She began her piano studies at age 5 and after winning several competitions made her concerto debut with the Beijing Philharmonic at age 14. That was only nine years ago. Today, the Juilliard graduate and part-time student in the Artist Diploma program there is chasing a rigorous concert schedule. In the current season, she has appeared in concert up and down the Eastern seaboard, including solo recitals in Delaware, Virginia, New York and New Jersey, and the Grieg concerto in Tennessee. From here she goes on to Barbados, then to Hong Kong.

Di Wu made her solo debut at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in 2005, and has performed recitals throughout the United States, Canada and China. She has also toured extensively in Europe, performing at such festivals as the Mozart Gesellschaft Dortmund, the Klavier Festival Ruhr and the Busoni International Piano Festival in Italy, and at venues such as Musée d'Orsay and Musée de Grenoble in France. In 2007, she won the National Audition held by Astral.

Previously, she won first prize at the 2005 Hilton Head International Piano Competition and the 2000 Missouri Southern International Piano Competition, where she was invited back for a worldwide broadcast encore recital in 2001. Di Wu completed her undergraduate education at the Curtis Institute of Music under the guidance of Gary Graffman.

As instinctively gifted in the art of music as she is at spreading the word, Di Wu likes to organize her programs around a particular purpose, in our case "The Art of Transcription." "Composers like Schubert and Liszt would take popular music of their time and add more notes, bigger chords and faster rhythms for more power and excitement," she says. Citing the "formulaic" presentation of many recitals, she adds, "My purpose with this program is to attract listeners who might not go to classical concerts."

Some of her biggest fans are her teachers. "Di has complete command of the piano, an impressive repertoire for her age and the ability to rivet an audience with her emotional involvement and strong sense of musical drama," says Yoheved Kaplinsky, chairwoman of the piano department at Juilliard. "Di will rise above the crowd in the extremely competitive field of solo pianists. She takes chances, has abundant energy, and her ability to communicate both verbally and musically set her apart."

Her Cabrillo College program will include Rachmaninoff's transcription of Bach's Violin Partita in E Major, Liszt's transcriptions of four Schubert songs, Leopold Godowsky's studies based on Chopin's Etude op. 105, Stephen Houghs' transcriptions of Rodgers' "My Favorite Things" and "Hello, Young Lovers" and a fantasy on themes from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro transcribed by Liszt and Busoni.

Di Wu practices four to five hours a day. Her list of favorite contemporary pianists is long, and includes Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida, Joseph Kalichstein, Murray Perahia and Martha Argerich. Significant repertoire still awaits her discovery. She is getting ready to tackle the big sonatas by Schubert, explaining that while the music "technically may look easy, it takes a lot of experience and patience, concentration and control."

DI WU performs Saturday, March 8, at 8pm at the Cabrillo College Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Tickets are $14-$22; 831.479.6331.

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