Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CNA(2010/08/10): Taiwanese pianist expresses deep affinity with two 'river' concertos

Taiwanese pianist expresses deep affinity with two 'river' concertos
2010/08/10 CNA
The music inspired by two rivers on either side of the Taiwan Strait should be performed back to back at one concert to highlight the similarities and unique differences in sentiment and influences, according to a renowned Taiwanese musician.
Concert pianist Rueibin Chen, who has played both the Yellow River and Love River concertos for international audiences, said the two pieces resonate deeply with him.
The Yellow River Piano Concerto is always a big challenge because of the emotional associations it elicits, he said in a recent interview with the Central News Agency."I must control the overwhelming emotions evoked by the epic music, which, in my mind, becomes scenes that reflect the legacies of contemporary Chinese history," he said.
Three of Chen's most recent concerts featured the Yellow River Concerto, which is the best-known Chinese composition in the world. He performed as the piano soloist in a 200-member orchestra of mostly Chinese instruments in Hong Kong early this year, and later was accompanied by a symphony orchestra at a concert in the northern Chinese city of Tientsin. His most recent performance was in Shanghai in May."
I first learned about the Yellow River concerto when I was a music student in Vienna in the early 1980s," he said.A Chinese musician told Chen the story of the concerto, which is based on the Yellow River Cantata that was composed by Xian Xinghai of China during World War II (1937-1945) when Sino-Japanese conflict was at a peak."I was deeply moved by the story of the struggle of the nation and the people, and have since tried to comprehend the nuances which reflect a very Chinese sentiment."Although he moved from Taiwan to Vienna at the age of 12, Chen said, he is still very Chinese."
Also, probably because I have traveled to China many times since the 1980s on concert tours, I feel very connected to the music, " he said.Chen's first visit to China was more than 10 years ago, long after the Cultural Revolution that inspired some of the music that was later added to the concerto."
Over the past years, I've seen changes in the land and among the people, and the music of Yellow River always conjures up many images of the past, " he said. "Like a river of history, it reveals so much about the misery, frustration and perseverance of the people and the land.
"The fourth movement of the concerto, which has been described by critics as too politically loaded and militaristic, has been edited many times and the various editions have been given different interpretations by pianists and orchestras.
But Chen said that for him the most moving version of the piece is the original Yellow River Cantata composed by Xian Xinghai.However, at his recent concerts in Hong Kong, Tientsin and Shanghai, Chen performed a version that was edited in the 1960s and in which the melody of The East Is Red -- the de facto anthem of the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution -- recurs consistently.
"The Yellow River Piano Concerto arranged by Yin Chengxong and Chu Wanghua in 1969 has become popular again in China after being banned on concert stages when the Cultural Revolution ended, " he said.The East Is Red music in the fourth movement is no longer considered taboo because it is now associated more with China's rising power in the 21st century than with the haunting memories of the Cultural Revolution, Chen said."Some renowned Chinese and Western pianists have picked up the piece and made it the best known Chinese piano concerto in the world," he said.
Not that there are many piano concertos by ethnic Chinese composers, he noted. One of the few is the Love River Piano Concerto, composed by Taiwanese Lu Liang-hui in 2006."The mood of the Love River Piano Concerto is comparable to the Yellow River Piano Concerto because they both combine Western music methodology with elements of Chinese music," he said.
The Love River Piano Concerto uses piano and Chinese musical instruments to portray the seasonal scenery along the Love River in southern Taiwan.Chen and the Kaohsiung City Chinese Orchestra have given a series of highly acclaimed performances of the piece in Taiwan, the United States, Australia and New Zealand."
I can detect the influence of Russian Romanticism in both concertos -- Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov in particular, " Chen said. "Actually, I was amazed when a music critic in Tientsin told me that he was sure my interpretation of the Yellow River music was inspired by Russian Romanticism."He admitted that despite his training in Austria and Germany and his admiration for Beethoven, he always falls for the passion of Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Rachmaninov.
The pianist said that he would like to perform the two "river" concertos, which are each approximately 20 minutes long, at one concert.The Yellow River Piano Concerto has never been performed in Taiwan, and people on mainland China probably do not know about the Love River composition, he said.
"I always believe that music is the best medium through which to forge affinity," Chen said. "In the Yellow River and Love River pieces, you can find similarities, and at the same time, appreciate the uniqueness of each."