Paul Huang: Bringing people together with music

 

March 2018

 

I met Paul Huang in Taipei a few weeks after I first heard him in the Dvorak Concerto and on the day he was playing with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. To me, he is one of the most beautiful musical revelations of the past years. There is something about his musicality and sound that really speaks to me. Moreover his magnificent music is matched only by his kind and warm personality.

 

Huang left Taiwan when he was eleven years old. His Taiwanese teacher prepared him to go study at the Juilliard Pre-College in New York. Playing music is something that Huang has always loved to do, something that has always been enjoyable and exciting. “My teacher in Taiwan really gave me the passion and love for music. I didn’t really want to leave Taiwan at the time, I was happy where I was. But my teacher really insisted that I needed to go somewhere else because Taiwan was not the right place to play music.”

 

Huang says that although playing violin was never easy, what has always been natural to him was the sense of self-expression. “As a kid I was very shy so music was my only way to communicate with people and grab people’s attention without using words. In that sense, playing violin was a very liberating experience for me. I feel I can relate to violin and to the sound of violin.” 

 

David Oistrakh’s and the young Yehudi Menuhin’s recordings fascinated Huang as a child. Listening to these masters might explain Huang’s sumptuous sound, his speaking musicality, his subtle colors, and his perfect style. Everything about his playing is beauty. “Since childhood I was only able to relate to the sound of violin that feels human, vocal and lyrical. The sound has its self-expression; it has to connect to the soul. Many players don’t connect the sound to their soul. Many violinists just play to hear the sound of their violin without giving it meaning. In these cases you loose the personal connection to the being. It is Kreisler who made me realize that I can emotionally connect to the sound of violin.” 

 

Huang remembers his very first public performance, which was at the church in his hometown. “I remember how magical that was for me. I was craving for attention but didn’t know how to get it. All of a sudden I was on stage with all those people listening to me carefully, there was this incredible sense of communicating. Those moments of sharing are very magical and in a way very addictive and they stay with you forever. Those moments are the reason why we create, why we try to create every night.”

 

Huang believes that the audience in the hall and the performers on stage play an equal role in the process of creating music’s magic. “Concerts are a give and take  between the audience and the performers. This is why it is so important to find the right audience - an audience that appreciates music, and that wants to experience the same thing as you do. You open up to them and they come to you as well. It is a very delicate situation, a tricky relationship, because if you do it right as a performer and open up, you become very vulnerable on stage.”

 

For Huang, concerts are crucial to the evolution of an artist. “God knows how much I learned from sound checks at dress rehearsals. Concerts and the preparation they require are the best ways to learn, they are the best lessons. Playing the same piece everyday but in different settings gives amazing opportunities to learn.”

 

At the beginning, Huang did not know that playing violin would become a job. He just knew he wanted to play for the rest of his life. “As a child I knew that if I played the violin, I would get to travel a lot. Playing in different countries attracted me a lot, it seemed exciting. That might have been one of the main reasons I wanted to become a violinist: I wanted to travel.” 

 

Today, visiting so many different cultures and people, and collaborating with many different artists has enriched Huang’s life. “It is always wonderful to be able to experience different kinds of audiences, and also to discover different territories where classical music may not have been so well appreciated yet.”

 

“I think it is important for an artist to not just be a violinist but to also give time to musical education. I like to play for people; I like to let people experience music. It doesn’t matter if it is classical or whatever, but to let people experience live music is very important. We often forget how important it is, how much it gives a child, how much it impacts a life. Music affects life and it is something worth doing. This is why it is very important for me not just to think about refining my own craft but also to think of ways to use this craft to serve society.” 

 

“Very often I wonder if I am doing the right thing. While we play in those magnificent concert halls, there are people who are starving, people who are begging for a life. But I have the feeling that music is healing, and it helps me justify myself as being a musician.” 

 

Huang, who is on the board of a few organizations that reunite people with music, says that it is essential for him to connect his job to society. He easily gives his time to contribute to a good cause. “Uniting people with music is sometimes the most wonderful way to connect people without judgment. I think that in our society nowadays it is very important to know how to respect, how to accept different cultures and groups. It is even more important today than ever before. Music has this wonderful power of bridging people.”

 

Huang has such simplicity and integrity. His spirit and state of mind towards music is fundamentally good and human. He says that for him a lot of things in life come from passion, and that is what keeps him on track. “For me the passion for music really goes a long way. Sometimes it seems that with music you have to start from scratch everyday. Going from one concert to another, one place to another, you can easily get lost.”

 

“I found that having something consistent in my life helps me not to get lost. My family is wonderful, we are very close. They helped me a lot. I also have a home in New York, where my girlfriend is. Those are the things that keep me very grounded, those are the things that I feel like I can go back to. I am surrounded by people who know what I am going through. I feel blessed and lucky to have that, I am very grateful for that.”