Interview by China Daily News 《中国日报》
Jan 23, 2015
The internationally-acclaimed pianist Rueibin Chen has always believed in the overarching importance of music.
"Music is my life, my passion, my destiny," he said in Hong Kong recently before catching aplane to Los Angeles for his next performance.
Chen is a much sought-after performer and composer. He has won numerous awards andaccolades, proof of his love for the piano, which perhaps is matched only by his passion forcharity.Well dressed, but not extra vagantly, Chen wears a constant smile on his face.
Born in Tainan City in southern Taiwan, Chen was introduced to classical music by his father, anelementary school teacher who taught and loved music. "My whole family is musical," Chen says. "There was a piano at home before I was even born."
Chen's father bought the 120-year-old vintage piano with an ivory keyboard third-hand.
"They stopped making that kind of piano a long time ago," Chen says. "It means so much to me that I couldn't give it away to any museum."
He started taking piano lessons at the age of 5 from his father and uncle, who had won a pianochampionship in Taiwan. Chen was expected to practice four hours every day.
He would come down to my house once every six months to teach me somebasic(piano lessons), and I would write down notes and practice for half a year," Chen says.
At 6, the child prodigy won his first piano competition in Taiwan, playing Beethoven's pianosonata Pathetique.
At 10, he made his debut as a concert pianist with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. Three years later, he was training at the Vienna Conservatory under master teacher Dianko Iliew, theyoungest student in his class.
A world apart
In Vienna, Chen devoted all his time to practicing piano and going to the opera. He lived in as habby building with no elevator, and a common toilet,
as this was where neighbors would notcomplain about his constant practicing.
As he could only afford the cheapest standing tickets, hewould stand listening to aconcert or an opera for hours together, completely lost in the music.
"Being a true music fanatic, I went to almost 100 opera performances, " he says." I was amazedbecause it was impossible at the time to have such access to classical music in Taiwan or even(elsewhere in Asia)."
After graduating with a diploma in piano performance with the highest marks, he continued tostudy under maestro Arie Vardi at the Hannover Hochschule fuer Musik, Theater und Medien and received the soloist's examination award.
Later he studied with the world-renowned Russianpiano virtuoso Lazar Berman, as his only disciple from Asia.
"It is very important to understand the Western culture before you can perform their art," he says. "Your audience can tell whether you have an understanding of their culture and music."
Chen has performed around the world, from the Americas to Europe and Asia, and amazes his audience each time.
"I have audiences leaving messages on my fan page saying that they thought I was Russian inmy previous life and that my soul was Russian," Chen says, laughing. "Some ladies fromMoscow told me they were so impressed that I spoke their musical language so well.
"When I play, I put myself into the time, the weather, the atmosphere the music describes."
Chen has won many international piano competitions and awards such as the Boesendorferprize in Vienna. He has been named Best Young Artist by Taiwan's "minister of culture", andwon the Best Prize for Contributions to Music at the Salzburg International Music Festival, and the Albert Roussel Prize in Paris.
The beauty of giving
For all his achievements, Chen remains modest.
"I don't have a definition of success. I don't know if I'm successful yet," he says with a laugh.
"I never thought of having audiences enjoy my performances as being successful but it, indeed,has always been one of the driving forces of my entire career."
When he is not performing, Chen conducts master classes in places like the New England Conservatory in Boston and the Master Player InternationalMusic Academy in Lugano,Switzerland. He wants to pass on what he has learned, "especially (to) students coming from Chinese culture".
Charity is another of Chen's passions. "If I wasn't a pianist, I would have worked in charity forsure," he says.
He holds free concerts for the underprivileged whenever he can. He once put 200 wheelchairs in the VIP area of a venue to make sure those in the audience with special needs could enjoy his music.
In 2012, Chen organized the first "National Piano Competition for Disabled Youngsters" inTaiwan. The winners performed with him before an audience of about 2,000. "I want to let themknow that everyone is entitled and able to enjoy music,"
Every year he takes time off from his grueling performance schedule "to create new music". Inrecent years, Chen has done a lot of collaboration and premiering of new solo and pianoconcerto works in addition to his solo recitals and orchestral performances of classical repertoire.