(Photo used by permission of Felecia Keys)
Juniors Allison Zhang and Chardonnay Needler and senior Atsuo Chiu in front of the Golden Empire Solo and Ensemble Festival on the second floor, the floor on which the group performed.

After advancing in the annual Golden Empire Music Festival county competition on March 3, the piano trio chamber group competed in the state competition held at Sacramento State University on May 4. The group was awarded a command performance,  the highest award.

Groups from the school have earned only six command performances since orchestra teacher Felecia Keys started working at SCDS in 2010, Keys said.

The trio, comprised of juniors Allison Zhang (violin) and Chardonnay Needler (cello) and senior Atsuo Chiu (piano), performed “Oblivion” by Astor Piazzolla in Capistrano Hall. Two judges and parents served as the audience.

According to Needler, Chiu did some pre-performance commenting to remind the group to perform with musical expression, which she said helped her a lot, since the piece doesn’t require much technique.

“The notes are easy, not any rapid fast passages,” Needler said. “But what can and will make or break this song is the emotional aspect of (the music).”

According to Chiu, in this piece there are notes that need to be emphasized not dynamically but melodically.

(Photo by Felecia Keys)
One of the judge’s comments. Typically, judges do not give more than a I, but this adjudicator decided to give plusses.

“For string players, they can control the speed they pull their bow (with)  or add vibrato,” Chiu said. “As a pianist, there’s not much I can do after I push the key, but preparing for that note by building up dynamics and listening to that note even after the note is produced will create a melody line.”

Judges rate performances based on six different categories: intonation, tone, rhythm, technique, interpretation and balance. Ratings range from I-IV, I being the best. The piano trio earned an I rating in every category on both judges’ scoring sheets.

On one scoring sheet, the judge simply wrote “Wow” in the comment section.

According to orchestra teacher Felecia Keys, there was a nervous atmosphere before the awards were distributed. The atmosphere lightened up as they found out the award the group received.

“But it took a moment to realize that this was the last time (the group) will perform this piece together,” Keys said.

Chiu said he wasn’t surprised they earned command performance.

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“All members in my group are really strong performers,” Chiu said, “and they were able to (emphasize notes in a melodic way as I told them) 30 minutes before the performance.”

Because Chiu is a senior, this was his last performance with SCDS.

“I’m glad that I had a really strong group with such a great teacher and a supportive family of SCDS parents,” Chiu said.

Needler, who has been in chamber groups with Chiu since middle school, said the performance made her realize how much she will miss working with “genius” Chiu next year.

“It’s been such a privilege working and producing music with Atsuo these past few years,” Needler said. “It’s hard to believe I won’t be able to hear his heartfelt playing and participate in competitions with him again.”

—By Ming Zhu

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