Wednesday, December 14, 2016

It is always fun to work with talented young musicians!

Renowned Pianist Rueibin Chen Calls for Taiwan to Use Arts for Diplomacy

Interview by The News Lens November 2016

“He plays with white-hot energy, steel-fingered, power and athletic virtuosity…has impetuosity and undeniably impressive technique.” – The Boston Globe.
“He mesmerized the audience as his fingers traveled the ivories with at times mind-boggling precision and swiftness and a level of emotion which delivered each note, each chord, to the heart of each member of the audience.” – The Times.

These are just two examples of the praise world-renowned Taiwanese pianist Rueibin Chen (陳瑞斌) has received during his career as a concert pianist.
As late Russian pianist Lazar Berman’s only disciple of Asian descent, Chen has toured all over the world, performing in major concert halls such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Sydney Opera House and the Hong Kong Cultural Center to name a few.

He was invited to be the opening soloist in the 2010 World Expo in China, and in 2014 was invited to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the biggest outdoor venue in the U.S. In the same year, Chen was also the only piano soloist invited to perform during the Beijing International Film Festival ceremonies.

But while the pianist has been applauded for his talent and success, in an interview with The News Lens International, Chen stresses the lack of attention the Taiwanese government has given to cultivating arts and culture over the past decades.
“The classical music culture in Taiwan took-off later [than other countries], mostly because government policies didn’t provide support for musicians,” said Chen. “Musicians were all on their own.”

At the age of 13, Chen was selected by the Taiwanese government in a national talent search and was sent to Vienna, Austria, where studied at the Vienna Conservatory. However, the pianist says that other than a passport, the government did not offer any other support.
“My family supported me financially until I was 16, but after that I had to find ways to provide for myself,” says Chen.

Through entering and winning competitions, the pianist was able to live off prize money and, in the process, gradually made a name for himself. But Chen says he noticed at these competitions, contestants from China were usually accompanied by government officials.
Though the pianist has not been supported by the Taiwanese government, he has been striving to introduce Taiwanese and Chinese cultures overseas through the way he is most familiar with – music.

Chen says he is able to connect with the mainstream audience because of the long time he has spent overseas, and since 2013, Chen has been performing rearrangements of well-known Taiwanese and Chinese melodies around the world. The performances are a collaboration of piano and traditional Chinese musical instruments, such as the erhu (二胡), gaohu (高胡) and dizi (笛子), and Chen calls the series, “East meets West.”

“I brought the ‘Love River Concerto’ to the Lincoln Center in New York, Sydney Opera House and Hong Kong Cultural Center,” says Chen. “But all this had nothing to do with the [Taiwan] government. It was all me.”
The pianist plans to continue playing the “East meets West” performances and has already been invited by various festivals in Europe to do so. Chen also holds masterclasses in Asia to pass down his skills, with the latest one to be held in Hong Kong on Nov. 27.

But he says the Taiwanese government should also think more about how it can reach out to more audiences through the arts and culture, noting that it can collaborate with artists and musicians who are already performing on international stages, because “we are the front-line performers.”

“Music has no language boundaries, so it can actually be used for a lot of cultural or diplomatic exchange, including across the [Taiwan] Strait,” says Chen. “It’s the best soft power.”