Stepping Out

PA Philharmonic showcases 3 local musicians

Courtesy of the May, familY
Los Altos resident Cassandra May is set to perform Sunday.

Three students from Los Altos are scheduled to perform at the Palo Alto Philharmonic’s Family Concert 3-5 p.m. Sunday at De Anza College’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

The three local musicians – Spencer Cha, Cassandra May and Ryan Wang – are among the eight winners of the Palo Alto Philharmonic 2019 Concerto Movement Competition who will be featured at the concert.

Ryan, a seventh-grader at Egan Junior High School, has been playing the piano since he was approximately 5 years old. He also studied violin for nearly eight years. At the concert, Ryan plans to perform Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G (first movement). He said he chose the piece because it is a “really fun, really interesting piece to play,” though the technique is challenging. Ryan considers it an unusual piece.

“It is a contemporary sort of piece, and it’s relatively modern,” he said. “It’s from the 20th century and it has a lot of lyrical sections and a lot of fast and really fun sections to play.”

Spencer, a pianist, has also been practicing since early childhood; the freshman at Harker School began playing at only 2 years old.

“It was mostly because I was envious of my sister, because she had started playing a little before,” he said. “I was jealous that she was playing piano, so I wanted to play as well.”

Music runs in the Cha family – their father also plays piano. Spencer and his sister try to learn at least one duo or duet every year, he said.

At the concert, Spencer is set to play Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (third movement). He describes the piece as lively and energetic, “very fun.” He said he chose it because it felt “like a piece that accurately represents my abilities on the piano.”

Cassandra’s musical career was also largely influenced by her family. She followed her older brother – who was learning to play the cello – into a music store at age 3 and fell in love with the violin.

“I really wanted to play an instrument,” she said. “I wanted something that I could be good at, and I really enjoyed music.”

Since then, Cassandra has focused her studies on classical music. She plans to play Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor (first movement) at the concert. The eighth-grader at BASIS Independent Silicon Valley described the piece as “quite unusual.” The first movement is the longest, lasting nearly 15 minutes.

“It’s both (energetic and slow). The beginning is kind of slow, and then it gets faster and more energetic, and then it slows down again,” she said. “It ends quite energetically, and then I have a cadenza, which is slower but still interesting and varying.”

Preparing to perform

Cassandra is expected to be the first to perform at the concert. Although she believes that all performance spots are equal, playing first makes her a bit nervous.

“You have to be ready – and you’re starting off the concert. In my opinion, it’s a little bit scarier,” she said. “Either way, no matter where you perform, you’re still going to have to do your best and (the order) is not going to matter.”

Before each performance, Cassandra said she takes a lot of deep breaths to calm down.

“Every single time, I know that I’ve tried my best and I’ve practiced as hard as I can, so no matter how I do, I’m still going to be happy,” she added.

The other musicians share a similar approach – they all get nervous, despite performing frequently.

“If you don’t get nervous, it means you don’t care,” said Spencer, who added that he likes to “go back and listen to (his) favorite pianist’s performance of the piece right before” he takes the stage to get into the mindset of the piece and visualize how he is going to play it.

Ryan also prepares by listening to the piece he is going to play. His favorite thing about piano is “learning about all sorts of interesting pieces and learning to play them,” he said, adding that he enjoys both older and more contemporary classical pieces.

“Contemporary is usually fun to play, but classical is more structured, and it has interesting parts about it,” he said.

In contrast, Spencer plays mostly Romantic-era classical pieces. His favorite part of playing piano is “taking the music from the page to performance, making music, feeling the music,” he said. He performs approximately once a month during the competition season, which roughly aligns with the school year. He said the highlight of his musical life thus far was playing at Carnegie Hall at age 11.

Cassandra said that though there is not a specific moment she would call the highlight of her career, she has been playing more this year and feels like she has improved a lot.

“(Music) is really special to me because I’ve played the violin so long,” she said. “It’s been such a big part of my life.”

For advance concert tickets ($5-$10) and more information, visit

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