Rueibin Chen — a reluctant artist Friday, April 6, 2012 By Lin Yuting,The China Post
In March, Austrian-Taiwanese pianist Rueibin Chen (陳瑞斌) and three young pianists with physical disabilities — Chen Bo-rong (陳柏榮), Gu Yong-kai (顧永鍇) and Zhang Yan-sheng (張晏晟) — presented two “Rueibin Chen & Friends” (愛與陽光音樂會) concerts in Tainan and Taipei, assisted by Chen's colleagues and the Motech Culture and Art Foundation (茂迪文化藝術基金會). The China Post caught up with Chen after the event.
How did the concerts turn out?
The audience was touched but thought it was too brief. They wanted more. Some cried while others held back their tears. Collaborating with the students went smoother than I expected. One student is autistic while the other two are blind. With the autistic student, we had difficulty communicating through words; I used simple, direct instructions like “OK” or “not OK.” But through music we had something in common. The blind students memorized the whole score, not only their parts but also my part. Rehearsing together was more complicated than I thought but we found a way to avoid bumping into each others' hands.
Do you think of anything before going on stage?
Nothing really. You're almost onstage! What else can you think of?
You must always be in peak condition before going on stage, because one cannot warm up backstage. You play right away when you get on. It is cruel but the audience won't sympathize.
How did you get onto the pianist's path?
I went abroad to study as a child. I studied the piano at my father's behest, and did not enjoy practicing much. Every child in my family competed in music as my father wished. There was a piano in the household when I was born, purchased not for me but for my uncle. Pianos were rare in southern Taiwan at that time; father got it third-hand. I learned to play by recognizing the patterns on the ivory keys formed due to humidity, but the pianos I played on in competitions elsewhere had pristine white keys. I practiced on the family piano until successfully auditioning to study in Vienna.
I accompanied a choir everyday for two years, and then went abroad after a year or so of junior high. Back then the Ministry of Education (教育部) still had prodigy evaluations, which gave me not funding but a student passport, which allowed me to visit my family in Taiwan without being drafted into the military.
How did studying abroad change you?
I actually did not practice that much in Vienna. Even to this day I enjoy listening to music more than practicing. There were so many art events in Vienna, more than what you can take in. My [classmates there] kept on reminding me to practice.
Almost 30 years later my dad still has not visited Vienna, but we keep in touch over the phone.
Who else has influenced you in life?
My late teacher Lazar Berman [1930-2005]. Beyond music, he told me about real-life experiences of his coming from Russia to the West, as well as about the dark side of the classical music industry. It is practically a mafia world; to be in the industry and not use the mafia approach is very difficult. Sometimes musicality ends up being entirely sidelined. ■
► Next, Chen is flying to Los Angeles to play an outdoor concert series. He is also being featured by writer Wu Jie in 'Taiwan Zan' (台灣讚), a book about Taiwan's talents and beautiful places.