Violin soloist will close out symphony’s 2014-15 season

DOWNEY – Hao Zhou is only 18, but he plays violin like a master. Zhou will perform the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ beautiful and brooding Violin Concerto on April 11 at the Downey Theatre as the Downey Symphony closes its impressive 57th season.

Zhou was born in Beijing, but his family moved to Florida while he was a baby. He began studying violin at the age of six and is now a senior at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo.

When his teacher pointed out the Downey Symphony Young Concerto Competition, he decided to enter. Music Director Sharon Lavery started the Competition seven years ago as part of her vision to make concerts fresh and exciting by bringing new compositions and world-class young performers to Downey’s audience.

“I wanted the Orchestra to reach out to youth,” she stated, “and to encourage young people to study music.”

Zhou loves the violin for its versatility. “It has a huge range of emotions and colors,” he observed, “from the deep and rich tone of its lowest string to high and brilliant notes at the top.”

He plays a 1936 Becker on loan from the Coburn Foundation, and appreciates its “really dark, rich tone.”

The great music scholar Donald Tovey describes the Sibelius concerto as “original, masterly, and exhilarating.” Zhou notes that the concerto’s opening is “icy” but the first movement gradually warms to a “passionate and fiery” conclusion.

The second movement’s “deep melody” grows in one big crescendo to a “really cathartic” climax. The third movement is a demanding virtuoso piece, fast and exciting.

Zhou encourages young people to try an instrument. “At first, it can be challenging,” he says, “but as you work and see yourself improve, it becomes extremely rewarding.” Zhou met Maestra Lavery a few weeks ago and is excited to play with her and the Orchestra. A concert, he says, is “like one long roller coaster ride. You get involved with the music on stage and feel what the performers are feeling along with the conductor.”

Zhou will be entering college this fall and recently completed auditions for admission. He wants to pursue a career in music.

Winning the Competition is a good start—four of the six past winners already have positions in professional orchestras, an amazing track-record given the stiff competition for places and the difficult challenges many orchestras are facing.

With excellent music schools at USC and the Colburn School, the pool of local talent is outstanding, Lavery notes. It is to be hoped that supporters will enable the Symphony to continue this program and bring renown to Downey.

The concert will take place Saturday, April 11, at the Downey Theatre. Doors open at 6:30 pm so that patrons can view the exhibit of artworks on the theme “Reflections” in the lobby (co-sponsored by the Downey Arts Coalition) and enjoy the pre-concert talk by Maestra Lavery at 7:15.

An end-of-season champagne reception in the Theatre courtyard will follow the concert. Good seats are still available at the Box Office, 8435 Firestone Blvd.; by phone at (562) 861-8211; or on line at



Published: March 19, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 49