Pianist Chen Rueibin takes Beijing ‘Somewhere in Time’
Active around concert halls in Europe and the US, the Chinese-Austrian pianist has performed in Chinese mainland multiple times, including playing the Yellow River Piano Concerto during the open ceremony of the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. Next month, he is set to bring Rachmaninoff's piano concerto Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934), famous in China for its use in the film Somewhere in Time and one of Chen's more representative performances, to the stage in China.
Chen has played Rachmaninoff's works for most of his life. As we began talking about his favorite musician his eyes suddenly shined bright and he became especially passionate. He went on to talk about how he always felt a strong connection with this Russian composer and how he came to appreciate him.
At age 16, Chen won his first international prize at the Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition in Italy. Four years later, he became the only Asian student of Lazar Berman, the late great Russian pianist whose records of his performances of Rachmaninoff's works with Claudio Abbado are still in high demand, after the latter heard Chen playing Rachmaninoff's music.
Chen excitedly pointed out to me that Berman's teacher was actually one of Rachmaninoff's classmates and that he found it fascinating that the Russian composer made his way to the US where he passed away. Chen explained that his love for this composer was so great he once held a two-night concert where he performed five of Rachmaninoff's piano concertos - anyone of which can be an exhausting task for a pianist.
In 2013, Chen performed Rachmaninoff's Three Nocturnes in Asia and the US for the first time. A rare piece of music written when Rachmaninoff was only 16, it was later discovered with the final page missing. To perform the work, Chen took it upon himself to finish them on his own.
"I hope I will have more opportunities to perform these rarities for Asian audiences and help them to get to know more about this composer.
"When I was young, I chose Rachmaninoff's works because they are difficult to play. I wanted to show off my technique. But after so many years, I now pay more attention to the profound meaning behind his music," Chen said, going on to tell me that after so many years living far away from home, he feels himself getting closer to his favorite composer in his heart.
Born in Tainan, Taiwan, Chen set his feet on a musical path when only a child. He first began getting a feel for music on a third-hand antique piano his philharmonic father bought before Chen's birth. Beginning formal lessons when he was 5, he won first prize in a local city-level competition when he was 6.
A year after graduating from primary school, Chen entered the Vienna Conservatory as the youngest student ever admitted at that time. He was shocked by the entirely different cultural environment and atmosphere towards enjoying classical music. "I found a lot of musical treasures in Vienna. There were so many concerts and stories related to music... It is the hometown to so many musicians," Chen said.
European's strong cultural background made him curious about his own culture. Forming his own traditional Chinese musical ensemble, he is now working to actively introduce Chinese music to the Western world.
"People liked to talk proudly about their own culture there, which instilled in me a strong desire to speak out for my own. I think that is also duty of a musician," said Chen.