Chen was born into a musical family, and says of himself:
“There was a piano waiting from the moment I was born.”
But Chen did not, as one might think, have an exceptional musical education. His father taught school in Tainan, and Chen grew up in the countryside, where there was no music track in the schools and he had no opportunities to travel to Taipei to study with any master teachers. He had to improvise his own piano education, supplemented by tips he got from his uncle, a music teacher in Taipei who made occasional trips south.
When he was 13, Chen passed the exam qualifying him to go abroad. His father borrowed money through two rotating credit clubs and gathered up just enough cash for Rueibin to travel alone to Vienna.
Chen returned to Taiwan to give a performance at age 23. This was the first time he had come back since going abroad ten years previously, and the first time he met with the family he had not seen for such a long time. “When I saw my father at the airport, he was like a stranger to me, and we were hesitant about greeting, not sure that we recognized each other,” Chen recalls.
The media has often described Chen’s deft touch and technique at the piano by saying he has “the fingers of an angel.” But when he performs, not only do you see his digits flying across the keyboard, he uses the energy and vitality of his whole body in the performance. Chen smiles as he tells us, “My friends have laughed at me, telling me that ‘the return on my investment’ is definitely too low!” But he does not act this way deliberately or consciously; rather it is the music that causes him to quite naturally express himself in this way.
But what does the expression “the fingers of an angel” really mean? Chen replies: “Maybe it’s a kind of infectiousness that links the onstage emotionally with the offstage!”
Because of the Russian Revolution, Rachmaninoff spent the latter half of his life living in exile in the western United States. His later works all evoke a profound nostalgia and sense of loss for his homeland. Chen, who left home as a mere child, can very much relate to this feeling.
If you ask Chen where his home is, the still unmarried pianist says, “That’s hard to say!” If home means ‘house,’ then it’s Austria. But since he is generally on the road performing, his house in Vienna is normally empty.
Over the last couple of years, Chen has performed in a number of benefit events. Last July, after the underground gas explosions in Kao¬hsiung, Chen, who happened to be near the area where the explosions occurred on that night, was deeply touched by the assistance that poured in from the outside world.