Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?
When I was 7 years old, my parents moved into a new neighbourhood in a satellite town in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, and I heard some piano sounds coming from just across the street. I went over, met the lady, had a few informal lessons with her, and felt fascinated by the piano. I never had proper lessons with her, but the fascination remained.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Firstly, my parents, who had introduced me to the gift of the music and piano. Second, my first teacher in Kota Kinabalu, who played me a recording by Glenn Gould, and travelled overseas with me for extra tuition. Third, to Geoffrey Smith, who was the Regional Consultant in charge of South-East Asia for the ABRSM in 1991, he suggested that I audition for the Yehudi Menuhin School, and guided me through that process. Lastly, my teachers in the UK, who were Ruth Nye, Hamish Milne and Nikolai Demidenko.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I can find it easy to lose focus, and to not push myself 100%. This can make me fall away slightly in my pursuit when trying to understand certain works and ways of playing.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I remembered very fondly: a) touring Britain with Lord Menuhin and the Beethoven Triple Concerto in 1996; b) making my Italian debut recital at the Fazioli Hall in Sacile, Italy in 2011; c) performing at my 4th solo recital at the Wigmore 2011; d) recording an all Prokofiev solo disc for SOMM Recordings in 2009; e) as one of the pianists in the first ever complete Beethoven sonata cycle for South-East Asia in 2008. Also, I am also very proud to have organize my first winter piano course, taking place at the Yehudi Menuhin School. So these were some of my favourite moments!
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Recently, I have been working a lot on Prokofiev’s piano music. Also on Debussy and Schubert.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
If I play Prokofiev in season 2012-13, it is because in 2010, I started to find his music increasingly fascinating. I find it lovely to explore works in this way.
Tell us a little more about your duo partnership with Douglas Finch. What are the particular pleasures and pitfalls of playing duo repertoire?
I got to know Douglas many years ago, when I started to play his works. In 2010, I invited him to come to my winter piano course at the Yehudi Menuhin School. After performing a complete Liszt programme with Leslie Howard at the Wigmore Hall in 2011, Douglas and I struck up a piano duo partnership.
With 4-hands, the entire keyboard register can be used, the instrument transformed into this amazing orchestra, with exciting possibilities! One major pitfall is that any minute lapses of concentration from one player can be glaringly exposed!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I love playing at the Wigmore Hall, the intimacy there is unique. Also Fazioli Hall, so state-of-the-art, and a gorgeous piano there.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
This season, performing Prokofiev’s and Debussy’s piano music. I love listening to Fischer-Dieskau singing Bach. I love watching ballet at the Royal Opera House.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Ferruccio Busoni.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Bernard Haitink and the Berlin Philharmonic live at the Proms in 2011. Incredibly awe-inspiring.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To stay true to your art, and to find all sorts of ways in order to fulfil your musical/artistic ambitions.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently learning the Sonatine by Ravel, Impromptus Op.142 by Schubert, and revising the 4 Chopin Ballades.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Performing music in public.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Spending time with family and good friends.
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you enjoy doing most?
I love watching films in cinema, going to concerts and chatting with interesting people.
What is your present state of mind?
Fairly good, I think! Although a bit Prokofiev-ian.
Bobby Chen performs duo piano works with Douglas Finch as part of the Bristol International Piano Duo Festival, 7 March 2014, at the University of Bristol. Full details here
Described by International Piano Magazine as: “…an armour-clad player of complete technique, a thinking musician, a natural Romantic. Young bloods come no better”, Malaysian pianist Bobby Chen studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Royal Academy of Music with Hamish Milne and Ruth Nye. He burst on the scene in 1996 with a sensational season of concerts, which included a British tour with Lord Menuhin in a performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and a recital at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the South Bank Prokofiev Festival.
Chen has performed under conductors Lan Shui, Mathias Bamert, Maximiliano Valdés, Sir Neville Marriner, Pierre-André Valade, Giancarlo Guerrero and with several orchestras including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw Sinfonia, Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta.
In recent seasons, venues Chen has played in included Beijing’s Forbidden City Concert Hall, Dublin’s National Concert Hall, Singapore’s Victoria Concert Hall, Italy’s Fazioli Hall, Holland’s Hermitage Amsterdam, Poland’s Antonin Palace, Hong Kong’s City Hall, Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers, UK’s Purcell Room, Bridgewater Hall, Royal Concert Hall, Cadogan Hall, and Wigmore Hall. He has performed under the special auspices of Australia’s Southern Highlands International Piano Competition, at Brazil’s Musica Nova Contemporary Music Festival, Sweden’s Lidköping Music Festival, Ireland’s Music for Wexford and Wicklow Arts Festival, UK’s Worcester Three Choirs Festival, Guildford International Music Festival and Marlborough College Summer School. He has recorded six commercial discs, and broadcast live for UK’s Classic Fm, Hong Kong’s Radio Television Hong Kong and USA’s Pianoforte Chicago.
Chen was awarded ‘The BrandLaureate – Country Branding Award’ from The Asia Pacific Brands Foundation, appointed a tutor at UK’s Chethams International Piano Summer School, elected an Associate of London’s Royal Academy of Music (ARAM), and runs the Overseas Malaysian Winter Piano Academy (OMWPA) at the Yehudi Menuhin School.