Liu gives special invited performance in Brazil
For Dr. Solungga Liu, associate professor of piano at Bowling Green State University, the Fourth of July this year held special significance even though she celebrated far from home. Liu was invited by the U.S. Embassy in Brazil to perform in the capital city of Brasília with Brazil’s National Theater Symphony Orchestra.
A specialist in music by American composers, she chose a quintessentially American piece, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” for the performance on July 2. “It has a few simple and recognizable melodies, but they evolve in very complex ways, which makes it perfect to perform with the orchestra,” Liu said.
“It was my American dream come true yet again,” she said. “To get to feature a piece of American piano music on such a special occasion in the capital of a country that I really like — what can be more meaningful than this? I am so grateful for this opportunity.
“This was a very unique experience for me. The orchestra was excellent, and the entire concert was like a celebration for both countries. I met some diplomats of both the United States and Brazil and some leading cultural and political figures, among them one of the most respected and beloved Supreme Court judges of Brazil, whose uncles are very well-known pianists in Brazil.
“What made me happy was that BGSU was mentioned several times during the concert and also in the program. I also introduced our programs at the College of Musical Arts to some U.S. Embassy officials. I am extremely honored to be part of this meaningful cultural event. It is a powerful way to communicate through music.”
The Casa Thomas Jefferson, a nonprofit organization based in Brasília and dedicated to promoting relations between the U.S. and Brazil through cultural and educational programs, helped organize the schedule for her six-day visit. Liu said she is also grateful to Dr. Laura Melton, chair of music performance studies, and College of Musical Arts Dean William Mathis for providing additional support for her travels.
The invitation did not come out of nowhere, but represents many years and many avenues of connection between Liu and Brazil. In fact, she had only recently returned from her annual concert tour there before heading off again for the special event. She has visited the country every year since 2013 except for her sabbatical year, during which she prepared for an invited performance at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Her visits serve both as cultural ambassadorship and recruitment opportunities for BGSU. Liu has two former, one current and one incoming master’s student from Brazil in her piano studio, and the College of Musical Arts as a whole has about six Brazilian students in other disciplines. Liu’s relationship with Brazil began when a college friend from the Eastman School of Music, who has been teaching since 1993 at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, invited her to give a master class and recruit students for BGSU’s graduate program. Another friend in São Paulo arranged the annual concert series. Liu’s May tour this year included a first-time performance in the São Paulo Cultural Center, a major performing venue in the country.
As soon as Liu returned from that first series of performances, she launched into the college’s intensive Summer Music Institute piano camp for students ages 13-18, which she has directed for the last several years. Immediately after the camp finished, she and piano colleague Dr. Robert Satterlee, a professor of music performance studies and director of graduate studies, flew to Greece to teach in the Corfu Piano Plus Festival, along with five BGSU music students. Then she was off to Brasília to prepare for the concert and rehearse with the orchestra.
Orchestral pieces are quite different from the solo repertoire she usually performs, she said. Before leaving, she rehearsed by studying the orchestral score and listening to and playing along with Satterlee, who assisted her by playing the orchestral reduction.
The musician’s life of constant travel can be grueling. “The climate is different, the food is very different,” Liu said. “I have to exercise to build up my stamina. When I’m not touring, I try to walk every day. It’s very challenging. I need quiet and routine, which is what I get working with my students.”
In addition to her Brazil performances, Liu will be sharing “Rhapsody in Blue” with more audiences and in some unexpected ways. She and BGSU saxophonist David Bixler, associate professor of music performance studies and director of jazz studies, will present the piece in its original form, for jazz band, on Nov. 22 in Kobacker Hall at the Moore Musical Arts Center. Bixler will conduct Jazz Lab Band 1 for the performance. Next April, through her connection to BGSU alumna Dr. Nancia D’Alimonte, the conductor of the National Institute of Health Philharmonia, which is comprised of physicians, Liu has been invited to perform in back-to-back special All-American concerts with the Philharmonia, one in Washington, D.C., and the other for patients at the hospital on the NIH campus. The program will also be live-streamed so patients in their rooms may watch it.
“This is what I love about this country,” Liu said. “There are so many opportunities. If you work really hard, you can do so many things. I’m so grateful.”