Des Moines Symphony’s new work offers ‘unstoppable momentum’

Wang Lu’s “Surge” opens this weekend’s concerts at the Des Moines Civic Center. Photo: Deirdre Confar

By Michael Morain

When the composer Wang Lu moved to New York City in 2005, two things surprised her: “The air was so fresh,” she said. “It was so quiet.”

It’s all relative. Wang, 41, grew up in Xi’an, a city of 13 million in central China, and studied music at a conservatory in Beijing. She remembers riding on the back of her dad’s bike on the way to piano lessons, passing noisy construction sites, open-air markets and all the clamor of urban life.

She included bits of that cacophony in “Surge,” the 6-minute piece that will open this weekend’s Des Moines Symphony program under the baton of guest conductor Keith Lockhart from the Boston Pops. The concerts start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Des Moines Civic Center.

“There’s this unstoppable momentum,” she said of the new piece. “It’s like a huge chunk of ice that just fell from a glacier.”

Wang wrote “Surge” for the New York Philharmonic, which premiered it last year in a program with works by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. This weekend marks its second outing, in a program with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Barber’s Violin Concerto, featuring the 15-year-old virtuoso Amaryn Olmeda.

Wang teaches music at Brown University, in Rhode Island, and comes from a musical family. Her father was an opera singer, and she is part of a generation of Chinese musicians who were taught to revere the Western canon — Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and the like.

But she isn’t intimidated to compose new music that will rub elbows with time-tested classics. She’s written music inspired by the birth of her first childlayoffs at a textile factory in her hometown and even the frantic buzz of online dating.

Since “Surge” will open this weekend’s concerts, which she plans to attend, she likened it to uncorking a bottle of wine before a big meal. “When I go to a concert,” she said, “I want to have a full experience.”

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