By Gary Chun, Star Bulletin (11/13/09)

In her first visit to the islands, classical pianist Xiayin Wang should get a special feel for Hawaii, thanks to her local manager.

With an interisland tour starting Monday on Oahu, TanNa Young, Wang's manager as well as managing director of Palomino Entertainment Group, will probably include Wang in a family visit.

"My mom and brother live in Makakilo, and to answer the obvious question, I went to Campbell High School, and I also got my degree in theater from UH (University of Hawaii)," said Young by phone last week from her New York office.

Young, who previously worked at the New York City Opera, is also Wang's personal manager and Palomino's first classical client.

"There's something wonderful about her," Young said about the pianist, "a very real sense of genuineness and being open. When she first came to this country, she was very naive because her whole world was music.

"Being from Shanghai and to travel to the U.S. to be, first, a student (at the Manhattan School of Music) and now a professional pianist, she's been inspired by all the new experiences she's had here."

"I just started to tour over the past two years," Wang said by phone last Friday, "and TanNa helps me a lot with the last-minute things that come up. I do about 50 dates a year, plus master classes."

Wang has made a reputation for herself since her Carnegie Hall debut in 2007, with a repertoire that reflects her interests in compositions both classical and contemporary. The program she'll present in Hawaii "includes Haydn's Sonata No. 52 in E-flat Major, Bach's Concerto in D Minor that was transcribed from the original oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, Debussy's 'L'isle Joyeuse,' some Scriabin from my latest album, Ravel's La Valse, 'I've Got Rhythm' by Gershwin, two little Chinese pieces based on traditional folk tunes, and some Danielpour."

The last will be a Hawaii premiere of three preludes from Wang's upcoming album, "The Enchanted Garden, Preludes Book II," written especially for her by composer Richard Danielpour.

(The preludes had their world premiere in May at a recital at New York's Alice Tully Hall. Book I was recorded in '92 by Christopher O'Riley, also known as the host of National Public Radio's popular classical show featuring young musicians, "At the Top.")

"I think Daniel wrote the music for me because I understand the ideas behind his composition, and he's been open to combining my own ideas with his," Wang said. "The movements are very simple yet very profound. He uses a lot of different tonal colors, and his use of pianism is on a high level.

"There's been a lot of pleasure in playing the preludes, with their emotional variations and some surprises in its occasional humor and sarcasm."

AS FOR Wang's own travels back to China, she last visited her Hangzhou home this past summer.

"It was a short visit," she said. "I still feel really connected to my home country. I am very happy with the development in art and education there, with parents working together with teachers in their child's growth. And it's not just piano, but also violin and Chinese instruments.

"I know from personal experience that it's not a very easy road. I remember as a child having to travel for four hours by train Fridays with my mother from Hangzhou to the Shanghai Conservatory, sleeping in the school's dormitory with nine other children and then riding the train back home on Saturday night. My mom had to work every day, so she sacrificed a lot.

"It all started back when I was in kindergarten, and during music classes I was always the one who would stay behind to trying to learn what the teacher had played. My father was an erhu (Chinese fiddle) player, and he encouraged me to learn a Western instrument, so that started three years of private piano lessons before I attended the Shanghai Conservatory."

Wang admitted it took time to adapt to her new home in the United States.

"I was able to get a full scholarship to go to the Manhattan School of Music. While the education system is more strict in China, the school requirements here were highly different and there's much more freedom to do music," she said. "Luckily, I had a good foundation, so I explored more the art of playing the piano here.

"It was a cultural shock at the beginning. Students are able to talk freely, and life became very spontaneous. I think the experience freed my mind a lot and opened my eyes as I made new friends. I wasn't feeling shy any more and more willing to talk up. But even though I understand Western culture more, deep down I'm still very much Chinese."