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Globe West Arts

With cello, young star creates spiral of energy

By Denise Taylor
Globe Correspondent / November 12, 2009

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Teen cellist Bobby Chen (inset) of Newton has been busy racking up awards - so many that Newton Symphony Orchestra conductor James Orent has dubbed him “the Tiger Woods of the cello competition circuit, because he just seems to be winning everything.’’

At 17, Chen has taken the top prize in many regional events, including two Newton Symphony Orchestra competitions for young soloists. He established himself as an emerging national talent when he became the youngest American semifinalist at last year’s Stulberg International String Competition, and this year bounded into the semifinals of the prestigious Johansen International String Competition.

You can hear him for yourself on Sunday, when he performs Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor (Op. 104) as part of the Newton Symphony’s 3 p.m. concert at the Rashi School in Newton Corner.

“His playing is incredibly expressive, and he has this youthful exuberance, which sounds kind of trite to say, but it’s true. He has tremendous energy,’’ said Orent. “There was one really fabulous moment last night at rehearsals where I actually stopped the orchestra because it was so stunning.’’

During the concerto’s cello and violin duet, Orent said, Chen and the concertmaster “started sort of egging each other on, and the energy level just kept rising and rising until the orchestra just broke into applause. They were floored. It was just unbelievable.’’

They were witnessing what Chen describes this way. “When I’m really ‘in the zone,’ as they say, I’m focusing quite a bit, but at the same time it’s also like I’m emoting my own energy out through the music. It’s as if I’m putting energy in, but at the same time, I’m releasing it out through the cello,’’ he said. “It’s kind of a surreal experience.’’

Chen, who is a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, started out on the piano at age 4. But by the time he was 10, he felt lonely because he wanted to play with orchestras. Cello was the solution, though it took time for him to grow into the art.

“I didn’t like practicing or playing at all in the beginning. But then I went to music camp the summer after freshman year and it was an eye-opening experience. It wasn’t a boot camp where they make you play six hours a day,’’ he said. “It was more about getting to love music than becoming the best solo player you could be. . . After that, I started to love the music and found my own motivation to play.’’

These days Chen practices solo two hours a day, studies with cellist Emmanuel Feldman, and spends countless hours rehearsing and performing with three youth orchestras, a quartet, and a trio. Then there are the competitions. And, yes, he does his homework and plays sports as well.

“Now, practicing has become my escape from the day,’’ he said. “It’s the one thing that I love the most.’’

Sunday’s Newton Symphony Orchestra program, titled “Those Fabulous Czechs’’ and also featuring Josef Suk’s “Scherzo Fantastique,’’ Dvorak’s “Prague Waltzes,’’ and Smetana’s “Vltava,’’ starts at 3 p.m. in the Rashi School auditorium, 15 Walnut Park, Newton Corner. Tickets: $27-$32; seniors, students $22-$27; children under 14 $10. 617-965-2555, www.newtonsymphony.org.

LORD OF THE FANCY DANCE: Those who have witnessed Larry Yazzie as he dances tell him he pulses with the energy of a galloping stallion. Yazzie, a world champion Native American fancy dancer from Minnesota, describes his state on the dance floor this way: “It’s like I just guzzled down a couple of Red Bulls.’’

In a free show Tuesday at Dean College in Franklin, Yazzi will share the traditions of the Meskwaki, or “people of the red earth,’’ including the flamboyant and energetic fancy dance (see a clip online at www.youtube.com, search for “native pride dancers’’).

Yazzie and two members of his Native Pride Dancers troupe weave traditional storytelling, dance, drumming and flute in a performance that’s as much about education as entertainment, whether they are exploring creation myth stories or explaining their feathered regalia.

But pure passion fuels the performance. “I’ve been dancing since the tender age of 7,’’ said Yazzie. “I keep doing it because the dancing lifts my spirit and soul, and it affects the people I dance for that way too.’’

Native American Dance and Story with Larry Yazzie, 7 p.m. Tuesday in Dean College’s Campus Center Atrium; free parking at 89 West Central St. lot (Route 140), Franklin. Free. 508-541-1840, www.nativepridedancers.com.

CRAFT FAIRS TAKE OFF: The season of holiday craft fairs gets an early start this weekend with three cozy events in area communities.

The Kaleva Fall Craft Fair on Saturday takes the prize for most gorgeous setting, in the rustic Kaleva Lodge overlooking Fort Pond in Littleton. Sponsored by the Ladies of Kaleva, a Finnish cultural organization, the fair features Finnish crafts such as rag rugs and jewelry, as well as bold, contemporary purses and pillows from popular Finnish design company Marimekko. Light fare will be sold for lunch, and proceeds go to college scholarships for local students.

In Hopkinton, the Special Education Parent Advisory Council will host its first Holiday Craft Fair tomorrow evening and Saturday, with area artisans offering such wares as beaded jewelry, stained glass, quilting, metal art, and knitted hats and scarves. A portion of the proceeds will help pay for classroom equipment in the town’s schools.

Venues in Southborough have your whole Saturday planned. Starting at 10 a.m., the Arts Center in Southborough’s Holiday Shop offers gift items from jewelry and ornaments to floral arrangements and purses, with a regional juried art exhibition serving as a backdrop.

Then, Nerissa and Katryna Nields will offer their lush harmonies in two shows, at 3 p.m. for the family and 7:30 p.m. for grown-ups, at the Pilgrim Church’s Steeple Coffeehouse. Buy tickets to the evening concert in advance and you can join a preshow three-course dinner at Tomasso Trattoria for $19.

Kaleva Fall Craft Fair, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Kaleva Lodge, 9 Kaleva Road, Littleton. Free. 978-897-5936, ladies42@yahoo.com. SPEAC Holiday Craft Fair is 6-9 p.m. tomorrow and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, 16 Blueberry Lane, Hopkinton. Free. 508-497-3959, speacofhopkinton@gmail.com.

The Holiday Shop is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Arts Center at Southborough, 21 Highland St. Free. 508-481-9351, www.southborougharts.org. The Nields perform at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Steeple Coffeehouse, Pilgrim Church, 15 Common St., Southborough. Tickets: $9 for family show; for evening show, $12-$15 in advance, $15-$18 at door; dinner $19 in advance, $24 at Tomasso Trattoria, 154 Turnpike Road (Route 9). 508-599-3339, www.steeplecoffeehouse.org.

Have an idea for the Arts column? Please contact westarts@globe.com.