Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Taiwan’s ‘Russian soul’

    Chen Ruei-bin poses for a promotional photo of his Dreams and Passion Concert.

Chen performs last year at the Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Southern California.

Taiwan’s ‘Russian soul’

Interviewed by Taipei Times 
Oct. 10 2017

Pianist Chen Ruei-bin talks to the ‘Taipei Times’ about the 2014 earthquake that devastated parts of Tainan, growing up in Europe and his passion for Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin

Chen Ruei-bin (陳瑞斌) doesn’t get stage fright, but as the concert pianist enters the 3,000-seat performance space in Los Angeles he’s shaking with anxiety. He sits at the piano, straightens himself, pauses and begins to play.
A magnitude 6.4 earthquake had just hit southern Taiwan, devastating much of his home neighborhood of Yongkang District (永康).
“I was in the air when it happened,” he recalls. “I only found out after landing in LA.”
As he begins to play, he still has no word of his family’s whereabouts. Many in the audience were aware of the situation.
Chen’s ability to persevere under intense pressure is a reason why he is one of the world’s most sought after pianists.
After Chen finishes his final piece, the crowd erupts in a roar.
“It was the most touching ovation I’d ever received,” he says.
Born to music teachers, Chen grew up in a school staff dormitory: a little Japanese-style house built on short wooden stilts with cats chasing mice under floorboards.
Chen spent much of his childhood at the family piano — a third-hand ivory-keyed 140-year old relic bought from a doctor.
Chen was destined for the stage. After making his debut with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra at age 10, he was sent to Austria to study at the Vienna Conservatory at 13, leaving his family behind in Tainan.
Unable to speak German, he says he barely left the comfort of his piano chair for those first months.
Chen was trained by Lazar Berman, one of the greats of the Russian romantic tradition, who only took on a handful of students, Chen being the only non-European among them. As a former KGB officer, Berman was barred from performing in the West for much of the Cold War.
“He was incredibly strict,” Chen says. “If you didn’t play exactly as he told you to, he’d just get up, walk away and stop teaching you. You had to learn to endure his wrath.”
Chen says Berman calls this the “Russian soul,” a tragic musical outlook that accepts no compromise.
Having lived through World War II and the Cold War, Chen believes it was the brutality and hardship his teacher had experienced that connected him on such a deep emotional level to music.
“Understanding his story and how he related his life to music was the greatest thing I learned from him,” he says.
It takes 20 or 30 years of playing pieces from masters such as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin to fully comprehend the meaning of their work. Chen says this immense undertaking is compounded by other factors such as historical context, the composer’s personal life and its cultural and philosophical milieu.
“I can feel the weight of history on my shoulders as I play,” Chen says.
To honor the victims of the earthquake, Chen performed Scriabin’s Nocturn for the Left Hand in April of last year. Thankfully, he didn’t have to play at his parents funeral because they survived the earthquake.
“Scriabin suffered from depression,” Chen says, “You can feel his sorrow in his music.”
Scriabin’s music resonates with those who are in the depths of despair, he says, because it encourages them to keep going.
“Music amplifies people’s emotions,” he chuckles, adding that it has to have a greater purpose.
Active in numerous charities, he offers free tickets for families with disabled children to his concerts.
“Whether it’s making music or doing volunteer work, I want to leave behind as much as I can for this world.”

Pianist Rueibin Chen to perform in Taipei

Pianist Rueibin Chen to perform in Taipei   

Report by Central News Agency 


Taipei, Sept. 26 (CNA) Taiwanese-Austrian pianist Rueibin Chen (陳瑞斌) will give a concert in Taipei, performing pieces from the works of Schubert, Scriabin, Tcherepnin and other famous composers.

The program will include Italian composer Ottorino Respighi's "Nocturne;" Schubert's "Liszt: Serenade" and "Liszt: Ave Maria;" and Beethoven's Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 ("Appassionata").

Chen will also perform the music of Russian composers Alexander Tcherepnin and Alexander Scriabin, including "Punch and Judy;" "Shadow Play;" Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op.9; and Etude Op. 8 No. 11 and No. 12.

Chen said Tuesday he has put together a diverse program because he wants to introduce a variety of pieces to classical music fans in Taiwan.

He said he chose pieces from Tcherepnin because of the composer's deep connections with the Chinese community.

Not only was Tcherepnin married to a Chinese pianist, but two of his students Chiang Wen-yeh (
江文也) and He Luting (賀綠汀) were from Taiwan and China, respectively, and were major influences on the classical music scene in their respective countries, Chen noted.

Meanwhile, Scriabin's Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op.9, are pieces that have a special place in his heart, Chen said.

Scriabin composed the two pieces at time when his right hand was injured, Chen noted.

"But he never gave up, even if he could only play with one hand," said Chen, adding that he also sustained injuries in the past and was inspired by Scriabin's spirit.

At the Taipei concert in October, Chen said, he will take up the challenge of playing the two pieces with only his left hand.
Chen began playing piano at the age of five, with his father as his teacher, and eventually went on to study under the late revered Russian pianist Lazar Berman.

He was named one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the Republic of China in 2004 and performed at the opening ceremony of Shanghai's World Expo in 2010.

In 2014, Chen performed the "Yellow River Piano Concerto" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, a large outdoor venue.

That year, he also became the first piano soloist to perform during the inaugural season of the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.