"It is a wonderful writing and I feel very lucky to meet you."
- Yun-Chin Zhou
Yun-Chin Zhou: Far and Beyond
I went to hear Yun-Chin Zhou’s debut at Carnegie Hall hoping to hear yet another great Chinese pianist. It turned out that Yun-Chin Zhou was far and beyond anyone I have heard in the past years. He had such style, such elegance – something Horowitzian! The young pianist had an admirable sense of pace and infinite ease. He played with time; he tasted and enjoyed the notes he picked from the keyboard. Genuine and simple, yet he was very exciting to watch, the sparkle of youth giving us a wink at every turn. He was inspiring and exhilarating. After the evening I heard him play, I walked home in the bracing cold weather with a smile on my face and hope in my heart for the music of a new generation. A few days later we met.
Zhou started playing the piano just for fun, as he says. But soon his teacher thought he should take things to another level and his mother started to push him very hard. The young pianist admits he grew up with a lot of pressure. So great was the pressure it turned into a nightmare. At age 10 he could not take it anymore and he started to hate piano. Finding video games more to his liking he quit piano. For two and a half years he did not touch a note. Then one day his father told him about a Russian piano teacher coming to China to give lessons. All of a sudden the boy became more positive. He wanted something fresh. He was looking for something new. He understood that if he played well he might have a chance to study abroad. He did not want to stay in the same place all his life.
Zhou was always told what to do and how to do it. He had to follow the rules. Until he was introduced to Horowitz he did not realize there could be many ways to interpret a piece. “I am a big fan of Horowitz”, admits the pianist. “I have been listening to him for a long time. His music is so interesting, there is so much color, so many miracles happening in his playing.”
The first time Zhou saw a video of Horowitz playing was life changing for him. “Living in China, I had no access to all these things, all this information. Nobody told me about it. When my mother realized I loved “that knowledge” she bought me a lot of music, cds, dvds, etc. She told me I had to listen to those playing and learn from them. I can say that was when my piano study officially started.” Actually, this understanding, this opening to the great masters and Western tradition is what struck me the most when I heard Zhou play.
Also while listening to Zhou in concert I sensed a strong connection between him and the audience. I sensed a great mutual respect. In fact, his prime goal is to enthuse people, to excite them, to make them love the music. “I want to make them feel what I feel toward music. For example the Liszt that I played at my Carnegie recital reflects very much myself. I was almost crying when playing it because of all the stories behind the piece, the reason why I decided to learn it, what it means to me. Those things are in my mind. I am very concentrated and involved in the music. I think if I am involved and evolve with the music the audience will evolve with me. People tend to set up rules for what is right or wrong. But there is no such thing as right or wrong. It’s just the way you like it or not, if you feel something one way or another. Make the piece your own way, be honest.”
The environment in which the young man grew-up was not always easy, but he does not feel like he lost. At first, Zhou thought struggling was a bad thing but then he realized it is actually good for music. Struggle serves as a trigger. It forces you to think and makes things happen. When you overcome difficulties and sort them out your way you make the music yours. Zhou cannot imagine his life without the piano. “Whenever I have things to say, whenever I feel happy or sad I would play music – not only classical music but jazz and pop, all music. Music makes me alive. If I give up on piano that means I give up on myself.”
Published on The Huffington Post on November 2014: