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April 15, 2017

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Young pianist aims to change music world

FOR Chen Jie, nothing should be limited in the world of music. The young pianist says there should be no boundaries between any kind of music — be that Chinese and Western. Nor should there be any kinds of walls that keep out the ordinary people from professional musicians.

The 32-year-old will deliver a piano recital on April 22 at Shanghai Concert Hall, performing Shubert’s “Piano Sonata D. 894” in the first half, and four adaptations of traditional Chinese pieces after the break.

“I named the concert ‘Cycle,’ because all the pieces that I will perform are like the law of nature. I hope they touch the hearts of the audiences regardless of their cultural background,” says Chen.

Schubert’s late works, in Chen’s view, deals with life and death, while the four traditional Chinese pieces — “A Moonlit Night on The Spring River,” “A Hundred Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix,” “Autumn Moon over a Calm Lake” and “Three Variations of Plum Blossoms” — depict the cycle of seasons.

Though there are several piano versions of the four Chinese pieces, Chen is keen on injecting her own understanding of the compositions.

Chen got hooked to piano at the age of three. Ten years later, she became the youngest student to get into Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. During the years abroad, she developed a longing for Chinese music.

“It was probably because I was homesick. I just felt more and more attracted to Chinese music during the years in the United States,” says Chen.

She intentionally includes Chinese works in almost every concert in the West. It is a way to pass on to the audiences all that she likes. She made an album “Chinese Piano Favorites” in 2007, which proved popular at home and abroad.

In 2009, she was given the task of adapting the famous Chinese violin concerto “Butterfly Lovers” in piano along with its original composer Chen Gang to mark the 50th anniversary of the classic.

“Adapting Chinese pieces for piano is just like telling a Chinese story in English. Piano doesn’t have to be modified like some Chinese instruments, but just to communicate,” says Chen.

She returned to China in 2011 after making several trips before. Though she still keeps performing overseas, Chen is focusing much of her attention on music education in China. Rather than teaching in any music conservatories, she accepted the position of dean of the newly founded Music Department at Shanghai University for Science and Technology.

“I want to make a change to the world, even a little,” says Chen. “To start with, I have started taking down the ‘walls’ between music professionals and ordinary students.”

Music became an obligatory course for all the students at the university, while those keen on learning can take additional courses with Chen.

Once sufficient number of students sign up, they can form ensembles or musical theaters on campus.

“They don’t have to become professional musicians. All that I dream of is that music can help support or enlighten them in their work or life, one way or the other,” she says.

Chen compares her work at the university as something similar to planting music seeds on a virgin land. She is confident about her efforts. Many students have become regular concert-goers over the past five years, while some graduates even have plans of adding music to their professions like rehabilitation medicine.

Recently, Chen expanded her territory from campus to mass media, which has a much wider reach. Her first mini-lectures on movie music through an online-radio platform were well received. She also participated in the hit TV program “Readers” to express her passion for music.

“Though I have made classical music as my career, I see no reason to lock myself out from the modern world,” says Chen. “Embrace what comes to you and grow your influence.”


Date: April 22, 7:30

Venue: Shanghai Concert Hall, 523 Yan’an Rd E.

Tickets: 80-880 yuan


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