Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Taipei Times(2011/03/29):Chen Rueibin strikes the right note

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - Page 16

Having left his Tainan hometown to study music in Vienna at the tender age of 13, pianist Chen Ruei-bin has carved out a career as a much sought-after soloist. He performs in Taichung on April 6

By Ian Bartholomew / Staff Reporter /Photo Courtesy of Capriccio Chamber Orchestra

Taiwan-born pianist Chen Ruei-bin (陳瑞斌) has spent most of his life abroad, having left his hometown in Tainan at age 13 to train in Vienna. He now divides his time between Europe and the US, performing a grueling schedule of concerts. He trained under the Russian master Lazar Berman, and is known for his energetic, sometimes athletic performance style, as well as for his interpretation of modern Russian composers such as Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. Earlier this month he performed in Taipei and Kaohsiung, and on April 6 he will perform in Taichung.

In addition to receiving numerous international accolades, Chen won the Taiwan Millennium Best Artistic Performance Award (台灣最佳表演藝術獎) in 2000 and in 2004 he took home Golden Melody Awards (台灣金曲獎) for best classical album and best performance. At his Concert of Russian Ballet Music (陳瑞斌俄羅斯芭蕾鋼琴音樂會) at the National Concert Hall, Taipei City last week, Chen was given an enthusiastic response despite the unconventional nature of the program, which opened with two movements from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Ballet Suite, Op. 75, and finished with three movements from Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

In an interview with the Taipei Times last week, Chen said he particularly enjoyed playing technically demanding music such as Petrushka, which is not well-known in Taiwan, because it was a chance to “show how good I am.” Chen is determined to prove himself in the eyes of his peers, and his efforts have achieved considerable success. He is now a much sought-after soloist. But Chen’s career as a concert pianist was far from a foregone conclusion. He described his childhood in rural Tainan, where at the time few people would have been familiar with a concert piano. “Unlike many younger Asian musicians, I was never given a structured musical education,” he said. “It just happened that my father taught music at a local primary school and we had a piano in the house. It was a secondhand Japanese-made piano and must be nearly 100 years old by now.” He went on to describe how his father would search out old vinyl recordings of classical music to listen to. “Often the crackling of the needle was even louder than the music,” he said. Chen’s uncle, a musician in Taipei, would occasionally visit and give his nephew a piano lesson, but that was the extent of Chen’s formal musical education. Despite this rather haphazard foundation, Chen won himself the opportunity to study at the Vienna Conservatory after being selected in a government national talent search program.

“The first time I ever got on an aircraft was to fly to Vienna,” he said with a chuckle. Prior to arriving in Vienna, Chen said he was not at all sure he would pursue a career in music. “My parents didn’t really know what to do [about this opportunity to study abroad], so they thought I might as well go and see what would come of it. If I could come back with some kind of diploma, that would have been sufficient.”

His love of music began in the concert halls and opera houses of Vienna. “I didn’t speak any German when I arrived,” Chen said, “so there wasn’t much for me to do other than go listen to music. That is when I came to love music and decided to continue on this path.” To subsidize his stay in Europe, Chen said he began registering for all the piano competitions he could. “I was pretty lucky that I managed to pick up quite a few prizes, and in this way, my musical career also developed.”

Chen made his European concert debut at the Grossensaal of the Vienna Konzerthaus in 1984 to considerable acclaim and his career as a concert pianist has never looked back. He has performed in many of the great concert halls of the world and worked with some of its most notable orchestras. Although he returns to Taiwan regularly, he says he feels as much European as Taiwanese. “After all, I have spent longer abroad than I have in Taiwan,” he said. Chen said that having been thrown into a foreign environment at such a young age, he needed to educate himself in a way that many other young Asian pianists do not. “At the time, few aspiring Asian musicians would have gone overseas so young [Chen was just 13], or at least they would have traveled in the company of their parents. I was on my own and had to deal with everything myself. My career is a totally different world for my parents, one that they have little understanding of."

Chen’s performance style has been deeply influenced by his last mentor, the Russian virtuoso Berman.

The pianist said that he was the only Asian student ever taken on by Berman and talked about his work developing a feel for the Russian composers. “In playing a piece like Petrushka, the technical challenges are considerable. You need a total command of the skills, before you can start giving it the true Russian feeling … The physical demands are huge.” At the Taipei concert, Chen attacked and caressed the piano by turn, giving substance to a much quoted Boston Globe review describing his performance style as one of “white-hot energy, steel-fingered power and athletic virtuosity.”

Chen’s combination of technical skill and Russian passion will be on display at the Chunghsing Concert Hall, Taichung (台中中興堂), 291-3 Chingwu Rd, Greater Taichung (台中市精武路291之3號) on April 6. A small number of tickets are still available and can be purchased through ERA ticketing by calling (02) 2341-9898, or from