Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

When I think back to the moment that led to me majoring in music, it’s funny that it wasn’t some Hollywood-style lightbulb thing—the way it happened was almost forgettable. I’d seriously played music my entire life, but I was also one of those obnoxiously accomplished kids who did everything and was proficient at every subject, so when it came time to do college applications I applied for programs in multiple fields. I ended up applying to and attending conservatory because my piano teacher stopped me after a performance and told me, seriously, that I couldn’t ever give up music. No one else had given me that kind of direction, so I took that bit of counsel and ran with it.

I figured I would follow music as far as it would take me; I promised myself that if there came a day where it no longer brought me joy and I’d wrung all the love that I could out of it, I would stop. That day hasn’t come yet.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

When I was really little, I would watch Victor Borge on PBS, and I just adored everything about him; he made music so funny but he was also just a phenomenal musician. He was warm and silly and the silliness didn’t detract from the beauty of the music, and I think that was a really crucial thing for me to absorb at an early age, since classical music in general can take itself way too seriously. A lot of people get hung up on things like “greatness” and “nobility” and “transcendence” in classical music, and don’t get me wrong, those elements exist, but there’s also a lot of humor and irony and self-deprecation in music as well, and I think we do ourselves a disservice if we pretend the art form doesn’t contain all these very human things.

He was just a master of presenting music to audiences in a way that was really accessible and entertaining. When I was little I didn’t know much about music history or advanced theory, and I didn’t have to to enjoy Victor Borge’s performances. That’s something I keep in mind whenever I prepare performances, since I like to talk to the audience about the music; how do I teach them something about the music in a way that’s entertaining, where you don’t feel like you’re being lectured? I don’t get as slapsticky as Borge, and I’m nowhere near as funny as he is, but that accessible humor is something I always aim for.

There have been a lot of other influences in my life, of course, and I’ve been lucky to have amazing mentors in the field of music, but I think a lot of my guiding philosophy all goes back to Victor Borge.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I’m really self-conscious about the fact that I’m not on the traditional track that pianists usually take. I didn’t do competitions when I was young because my teacher was very rightly concerned that competition culture would be really rough on me, since I was a pretty shy and sensitive kid. I didn’t go to a big-name conservatory, I haven’t won any major competitions or been picked up by a label or agency, and I’m not pursuing a career in academia. I’ve read biographies and memoirs and interviews by pianists I deeply admire where they actually, literally say, if you haven’t hit these traditional milestones by the time you’re eighteen, you need to give up, because you will never make it.

I know objectively I’m pretty good at playing the piano, but I still have trouble believing that anyone will want to listen to me. I also know that I’m not remotely the only person who feels this way, and that there are a lot of independent classical musicians out there who have overcome the same problems, but doing your own thing still feels very lonely sometimes.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I think my recording of Cécile Chaminade’s concert etude “Automne” (released in May) might be my favorite recording that I’ve made yet. I’m at a point where I feel like I’m constantly torn between wanting to sound like other people, following the rules that my teachers have drummed into me, and trying new things and finding my own voice. I feel like the Chaminade recording is, so far, the closest I’m come to playing something in a way that sounds really like me.

I’m sure in X number of years or after X number of recordings I’ll look back on it and go, oh my gosh, this is terrible, why did I make these musical decisions or play like this, but you gotta start somewhere.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I absolutely love playing Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, etc. but I have this horrible anxiety whenever I perform their music, particularly the really famous pieces, because there are all these legendary recordings and performances that I feel like I have no chance of living up to them. And when you play that music, even if you have something really strong to say and have put your own stamp on it, you feel like everyone’s bringing their own different expectations to listening and you’re just set up to fail.

I think, personally, I perform best when it’s music that I love but that isn’t as well-known, because instead of trying to meet this invisible expectation, I’m coming from a place where I know it’s likely the audience doesn’t know what to expect and it’s on me to create something that makes it worth their while. Sometimes that’s lesser-known works by canonic composers, like Liszt’s “Les jeux d’eaux à la villa d’Este”—I just love performing that piece so much, it’s not what you’d expect but it’s such a crowd pleaser. And lately I’ve been adding music by traditionally underplayed women composers to my repertoire, and the amazing thing is that audiences love those works. I’ve had amazing responses to the Clara Schumann and Cécile Chaminade pieces I’ve played in concert, and oftentimes I’ll get feedback that people actually enjoy those pieces more than the famous stuff they’ve already heard a lot.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My teacher usually recommends pieces—he has an uncanny way of picking unexpected crowd-pleasers for me—and I often go completely off-book and will learn other pieces when something really grabs me. The Louise Farrenc etude I recently released is one of those; I heard Konstanze Eickhorst’s recording of it, and was so utterly smitten that I dropped everything to learn it immediately, and then recorded it just a few months later.

I also pick my repertoire so I can have options putting together balanced programs that work for different audiences; I kind of think of a concert program as being like a really good meal, where you have a variety of flavors that all complement each other and take you on a journey.

Incorporating a 50/50 gender balance into my solo programs has also been a really interesting challenge, because when I’m presenting less-heard music to audiences, I have to think both about how certain pieces go together thematically as well as how it feels for the listener, going from something they know well to something that’s new, and vice versa. I also have to make sure

I’m not unintentionally reinforcing lazy stereotypes, like having a program where all the male composers ’works are really fast and agitated and all the female composers ’works are slow and lyrical. I know I’ve done my job when I’ve put a bunch of disparate stuff together and people say that they enjoyed the whole thing.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There’s a private house concert I do every year at the home of a dear friend with a wonderful Steinway grand; it’s just an incredibly lovely experience because she rustles up a whole audience of people who just really love classical music and enjoy listening to me talk about it and it doesn’t feel like a performance so much as a warm and nerdy afternoon. I wish I could share that kind of experience with the whole world, because it’s just so much fun.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Ha, the first thing that comes to mind is that time I had a memory slip performing the Prokofiev Third Concerto with orchestra—I noodled around for a bit and somehow got out of it fine, but I still get panicky reliving it.

On further thought, I gave a lecture recital last year (2019) on Clara Schumann’s G Minor Piano Sonata, and I still feel all warm and happy remembering it, because the audience was so wonderful and engaged. It was put on by a nonprofit that does free community events, and the audience was primarily older classical music enthusiasts, who conventional wisdom says are typically the people least willing to listen to new stuff. But I just talked about how awesome Clara Schumann was, why her music isn’t as well known, and what makes her sonata so compelling; I can’t describe how amazing it feels to see a room full of people fully engaged and interested while you talk at them about something you really care about. And you can tell how engaged your audience is while you’re performing! Even if you can’t see them, there’s a certain energy you can feel. When I played I felt like that audience was with me the whole time, experiencing every phrase and going on that emotional journey. And afterwards we had a Q&A session, and they asked so many questions about Clara Schumann and the sonata, and a lot of them based their questions on what they heard in the performance. It felt like a culmination of why I love this art form so much.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I was younger I equated fame with success and I just wanted to be, like, mega-famous. Now the idea of being recognized on the street is horrifying to me, and I feel a lot more wary about the idea of being treated as some kind of product or commodity. I also have my reservations about the very concept of celebrity, the idea that people might feel like they know you, even though they only know this small part of you that you’ve put on display. So my personal definition of success is a lot more nuanced now.

I think success is a state of being where you’re doing work you’re passionate about, where you feel like you’re being true to your own voice, and you have some audience who your work resonates with. I think, especially in classical music, a factor of success is also how much your work reaches people who aren’t already deep in the field. I feel really validated when people who say “I don’t know anything about classical music” tell me they really enjoyed a performance or a recording, or that I taught them something. Art has to keep finding bigger audiences in order to survive, so I think a truly successful artist is one who continues reaching those audiences.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I’ve learned so much from the past couple years of working that I feel like I could write a whole book of unsolicited advice. I think the first concept that aspiring musicians absolutely need to know is that classical music is not a meritocracy. You are not necessarily going to get anywhere purely based on your talent or even your work ethic, because like any other industry, connections are everything and in a chaotic world, luck can be everything. And it’s really unfortunate, but first-generation musicians are always going to have a much harder time making it than people from families who know the unspoken institutional rules of classical music. The flip side of that is that if you recognize that talent isn’t the only thing that matters, you can leverage your other skills and qualities. You don’t have to be the most talented musician in the room to be successful—there will always be people who are better than you are, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for you. You just have to figure out what you have to offer the world.

I think it’s also really critical to get rid of this expectation that if you’re a musician, your whole personality has to revolve around music. I think that’s part of why some young musicians get prematurely burnt out and jaded—I know people who got disenchanted with music in their teens and early twenties and ended up without any other identity to cling to, which is just really tragic. I really do think you should be a whole person outside of music, and it’s okay to be into non-classical music and non-music media and pop culture and whatever else floats your boat. The world is full of so many fascinating things for your brain to chew on, you know?

What is your present state of mind?

I’ve been really thrown—along with everyone else—by coronavirus. I’m very, very lucky to be able to shelter in place. But it’s shocking how uncertain everything is now, and how my routine and short-term plans have been totally upended. This is the time of year I usually do a whole slate of concerts, and that’s not happening. I was working on some really cool projects that were supposed to unfold next season; I’m not sure about the status of those projects anymore, due to arts org budgets imploding, gatherings being risky, etc. We’re all in this suspended state right now. Performing is such an important part of my life, but I don’t know when we’ll be able to have concerts in-person again. It’s very hard to visualize what a career in music looks like after this is all over.

In this state of limbo, it’s really hard to continue working day-to-day like everything is normal. I don’t do well when I don’t have immediate deadlines, so it’s really hard for me to practice like there are still performances on the horizon. On top of that all, I just feel so emotionally drained. I mean, people are literally dying right now, and the level of suffering is just breathtaking. Even if you’re safe and doing fine, you know way too many people who aren’t. It takes a lot of energy and brainpower to work on music—or anything, really—and it’s very exhausting just being a human being right now.

I’m just taking everything one day at a time and being nicer to myself—well, I’m trying, anyway. I still have to practice on a daily basis because physical things like stamina, control, flexibility, etc. evaporate if you don’t keep them up. I used to beat myself up for not practicing enough hours a day or not making enough progress, but now if I’m able to squeeze out one or two hours of meaningful work, I’m genuinely grateful.

(Interview date: 27 April 2020)


Sharon Su is a professional finger wiggler. While she hails* from a very sunny state (California), her work has taken her to concert halls, churches, ballrooms, and the occasional palace throughout the cloudier sections of the world, both as a solo and collaborative keyboard-masher. She has extensively performed pieces from the classical canon (sadly, that is “canon” with one “n” in the middle) as well as premiered a number of newly composed works, likely because the composers were in a hurry and couldn’t find a better pianist to perform their works for the first time. Her work has earned her recognition as an American artist and, most importantly, she has recently been hailed by her mother as being “pretty good at noise-making.”

Read more

Sharon Su play’s Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto – more information

Louise Farrenc – Etude, Op 26/10


The Cross-Eyed Pianist is free to access and ad-free, and takes many hours every month to research, write and maintain. If you find joy and value in what I do, please consider making a donation to support the continuance of the site

Make A Donation

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

It was a long time coming. Though I had already played the piano for six years before entering the Curtis Institute of Music, it was the colleagues and friends I made there that really inspired me to see music as a way of life.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My teachers at Curtis and the Hannover Musikhochschule have shaped the way I see music. My family and friends give the life experiences I need to tell interesting stories. In an ever-changing environment, I’m grateful to have a stable network of people I can trust and count on for advice.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

There are many difficult things about being a concert pianist, whether its learning a particularly tricky piece, getting over a defeat at a competition, but these are so minor in the grand scheme of things. It’s an ongoing challenge to give your all every time you step out on stage. Even if you’re tired or fatigued, it’s a musician’s responsibility to inspire and bring memorable moments to audiences. But this is a challenge that I cherish.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Certain concerts stick out in my memory. I had a wonderful experience performing a benefit concert for the Multiple Sclerosis society with Howard Griffiths and the Camerata Schweiz at the Tonhalle Maag. We performed the Beethoven violin concerto in the piano version and as an encore, Hallelujah, where the audience joined in the chorus. A moment of goosebumps, the good kind.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I can’t answer such a question, but I have lots of music I love to perform. At the moment, I’m particularly interested in the Viennese classics of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It’s a given that I only perform works I feel I have something special to express. I’m very open to learning different repertoire, and I gather a lot of inspirations through regular trips to different opera houses and symphonic concerts, something Germany abounds with. Finding a central work is important in each program, then it’s a question of finding matches and themes.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie kleiner Saal is fantastic, not least because of its prestige. The pianos there, the acoustic and an enthusiastic audience are unique.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Cecilia Bartoli, Kristian Zimerman and Sviatoslav Richter.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I performed in Beijing NCPA last year, and my three grandparents came, all over 90 years old. I was so proud and happy to share with them one of my favorite pieces, Chopin concerto No. 2.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Staying true to yourself and never wavering in your faith in music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Live a full life, embrace multiple interests, because the more you know about the world, the more you can share.


Claire Huangci, the young American pianist of Chinese descent and 2018 Geza Anda Competition first prize and Mozart prize winner, has succeeded in establishing herself as a highly respected artist, captivating audiences with her “radiant virtuosity, artistic sensitivity, keen interactive sense and subtle auditory dramaturgy” (Salzburger Nachrichten). Her unusually diverse repertoire, in which she also takes up rarely performed works, is illustrative of her remarkable versatility.

Read more

 

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My family loves music, although none of them are professional musicians. But they enjoy having friends over, having fun playing accordion and singing songs together, so I grew up in a music loving atmosphere. When I was four, my mother bought me a piano as she thought musical training would be beneficial for me. I was a quiet girl and could easily sit in front of the piano for a long period of time, definitely longer than the other kids could I suppose! I guess I was quite attracted to the sound of piano without knowing what it would mean to my life. Later, I won first prize at a number of piano competitions held in my home city Chongqing when I was between the ages of six to nine. My parents were encouraged by the professors from the best conservatory in China, and decided to send me for professional music study. So, I moved to Beijing at the age of ten, and “officially” started to pursue a professional career at the Central Conservatory of Music. Once I started to understand music and gradually build up a genuine connection with it along the path, I became more certain about choosing a career in music.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My piano teachers. I wouldn’t have gone this far without them. I’ve always been lucky to work with teachers who have helped me tremendously in different stages of my career. Professor Huiqiao Bao was my teacher for twelve years in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She laid a solid foundation for my career, as a respectable female musician, she is most certainly my role model. Her lessons have extended beyond the scope of music and spilled over into my life, learning better how to navigate through difficult periods. I studied with Professor Alexander Korsantia during my time in New England Conservatory in Boston; his passionate attitude to music and bold approach to life constantly encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and break my limits. My current teacher at the Royal College of Music in London, Professor Norma Fisher, is bringing my understanding of music to another level. These teachers have always been by my side and have guided me to be a better pianist. Their attitude towards music has inspired me to pursue the ultimate goal to become a better artist.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The greatest challenge I have faced was to hold on to the passion and belief in the music I perform, regardless of any dilemma and obstacles that came my way. I believe all the greatest artists have experienced the same challenges and overcame them.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

All of the performances I have given were meaningful for me; I keep learning from every performance, also getting to understand the pieces and myself better. Thus, I would say I am proud of every step I have taken.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It depends on the time being. However, it would definitely be the pieces that I feel connected to the most at that time. Lately, I feel a deep connection with the music of Scriabin and Rachmaninov.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I think it’s important for young artists, including me, to try to add variety into their repertoire. I would not want to limit myself to a certain style, or certain composers. Instead, I love challenging myself by selecting pieces that cover a wide range of styles, and pushing myself to play pieces that I don’t feel most comfortable with.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

It’s really hard for me to pinpoint a favourite because I’ve enjoyed playing in different ones. Some are grand concert halls, some are intimate salon venues. I think each venue has a unique character and my adjusting to it can certainly be a fun part of the performance.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many extraordinary musicians I’d like to mention, but Radu Lupu and Martha Argerich are the two living musicians I admire the most. Radu Lupu’s playing always flowed with the genuineness and the simplicity which held deep thoughts behind the musical language; his interpretation of the works by Schubert simply blows me away. Martha Argerich is a female musician who has a strong character; her boldness and fearlessness makes her music so unique and effective.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was attending a music festival in Kiev Ukraine in February 2014, and was scheduled to play Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 in a concert. At this time the Ukrainian Revolution broke out, there was violence involving riot police, shooters, and protesters in Independence Square. I was very frightened being in the city. However, the concert went on as planned, and I was deeply touched when I saw so many people in the audience At that moment, there was no doubt that music can heal great divisions. It was the most unique concert experience in my career so far, and it reminds me the meaning that music can bring to everyone.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Despite all the obstacles, keep playing, pursuing and sharing music for a lifetime!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Always be genuine to the music and the composers, learn the background and history of the music and composer, try to understand the true meaning that the composers wanted to convey and interpret their works with your own voice. To build up a career as a musician, our persistence and love for music are always the backbone to support our dreams.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Doing the things I love to do for life and could have others benefit from it.


Born in 1992, Chinese pianist Siqian Li started her musical education at the age of four. She studied with Madame Huiqiao Bao, received her Bachelor of Music Degree at the Central Conservatory of Music (Beijing) and became the first pianist to be awarded the “Best of the Best – Top and Innovative Talent” diploma and scholarship from China’s Ministry of Culture. As a student of Professor Alexander Korsantia, she obtained a Master of Music Degree with Academic Honors and a Graduate Diploma at the New England Conservatory (Boston). She continues to pursue an Artist Diploma at the Royal College of Music (London) under the tutelage of Professor Norma Fisher.

Read more

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I had this little toy keyboard-glock thing when I was little and, apparently, I would relentlessly play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on repeat on it…using only fingers 4 and 5. My parents weren’t musicians but suspected it would be sensible to find a teacher for me before I got into any strange habits!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My parents were incredibly supportive for which I will be eternally grateful. We also had a wide variety of musical genres playing in our home. I also had a primary school music teacher who encouraged me to be broad from the very start. He let me start an ensemble of children blowing across pen lids and he gave us a slot in a concert!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Self-doubt is my biggest enemy. I received some pretty damning assessments of my pianism and musicianship from some teachers along the way advising me to search for a career elsewhere and those comments still haunt me, regardless of any success I may enjoy. On a lighter note, as I like to keep myself varied and versatile, the constant “hat changing” from role to role takes a fair amount of concentration. There’s a reason people choose to specialise and I am endeavouring to match each person’s standard in each of their home territories! But I wouldn’t change it!!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a particular love for Debussy and French music. My very first piano teacher taught me that if I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out of a piano, that was down to me and I had to keep searching. This led to an endless thirst for finding sounds. I love contemporary music for the same reason. I also enjoy playing music which pulls on the breadth of styles I am familiar with.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I often don’t! I am often asked to play particular programmes based around certain themes. I recently performed a programme of works written for me for piano and various micro-computers!

Do you have a favourite concert venue and why?

I do love the Wigmore Hall. As well as the beautiful acoustic, there is something about its dimensions, the stage, the lighting, which makes you feel both near enough and far enough away from the audience while having a wonderful connection with any fellow performers on stage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love a good explosion like Martha Argerich. And Mitsuko Uchida just oozes generosity and sincerity.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Unfortunately, the one which springs to mind is where I had a wardrobe malfunction! I started my Scarlatti Sonata and one strap slipped down my shoulder, then the other… I could feel the audience holding their breath…for all the wrong reasons!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Finding the perfect connection between you, the composer and the audience (and the space and the piano) and balancing what needs to be communicated between all of these.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

That you can only offer what you have to offer. Feed yourself in every way possible, work as hard as possible, and always give everything you can. You must not expect any less of yourself…but you also cannot expect any more.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

In 10 years time, I would like to have a life full of a whole range of musical things, some of which I don’t want to be able to guess! I’d also like to have redressed my work-life balance…!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is the above and having person/people to share that with. Moments of absolute creative activity interspersed with thoughtless silliness and some complete stillness.

What is your present state of mind?

My present state of mind is currently noisy! I find it difficult to switch off; finding internal silence is a constant endeavour.


As a multi-genre chamber musician, orchestral pianist and music director, Yshani has performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Barbican Theatre and various West End Theatres. She has performed at events including the Oxford Lieder Festival, Kammer Klang and Live at the London Palladium and with such varied artists as City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mahogany Opera and Nina Conti.

Read more

Wu Qian is an internationally acclaimed pianist and Co-Founder of Investec International Music Festival, which takes place from 26 March to 16 May 2020.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

It was more like an accident; my parents took me to a friend’s house when I was 6 years old and they had a piano. As a child I have never seen anything like it before and immediately asked my parents if I could have one – they agreed thinking that it was proven how piano playing helps children developing both sides of the brain! After the first lesson, the teacher told my parents I was very talented so my mother had secretly hoped that I might make something out of piano and has pushed me ever since! There were times when I almost resented the amount of practise I had to do, but fortunately later on, I really started to appreciate music and it enlightened my life. That is what drove me to pursue a career in music.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was very fortunate that I had wonderful teachers from different backgrounds. I feel it’s the combination of all these incredible musicians and mentors who influenced my musical path.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think challenges are everywhere, but thankfully music makes me forget them!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am never that content with my own performances. I could perhaps pick out a few sections here and there to say “ah that was quite nice!”, but it is difficult for me to be completely satisfied.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

When I listen back my performances and recordings, I feel Schubert, Schumann suit me well.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I always like to add a few new works that I would like to learn or challenge myself, then there are always plenty of promoters requesting more of their wishes! So then it becomes a balancing act; trying t develop your repertoire while having a programme ready to perform.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

We are lucky these days as there are many beautiful venues with good acoustics, so it is very difficult to pick one, but I do think it’s the combination of the space we perform in, the quality of the piano, the audience, the ambience and the performer’s mood and energy at the very moment of the performance which create a unique feeling.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I am lucky that I have been to quite a few concerts and even lectures that I was very moved by. I can’t always explain what it was but when a performance touches you, it is unforgettable.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, it’s knowledge of the entire music history, and I am sad to admit I feel there isn’t enough time in one’s lifetime to find out everything, but I try my best!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Love the music you are making, work hard but never forget to enjoy it! We are all so lucky to be able to work on incredible repertoire, created by these titans of history; I really can’t think of something as exciting and rewarding as working in the arts.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Too many possibilities that I honestly can’t choose, but I can’t imagine doing something in life that doesn’t involve music.


Wu Qian was born in Shanghai, where she received her early training before being invited to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School. At fifteen she performed Mozart’s E flat Major concerto (K449) in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and again at the Menuhin Festival in Switzerland. She also played the Saint-Saens Concerto No.2 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in St. John’s Smith Square. She made her debut recital at the South Bank Purcell Room in 2000 and has since played there again on several occasions, including a recital broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

Read more

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I was born into a family of musicians: a pianist mother and a composer father. As a little child, I watched my mom practicing and grew competitive – as a three-year-old I would jump at the piano the moment she left it and wouldn’t let her back, pretending it was my time to ‘practice’. Seeing my father composing and listening to a lot of symphonic music at home with him shaped my musical demands, tastes, and desires. And attending concerts, opera and ballet performances, my mother’s recitals and rehearsals truly imprinted in my mind an idea of what life was supposed to be. Being immersed in all sorts of musical practice early on was the biggest influence. And thus I started to show my personal understanding and views in music quite early as well.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was homeschooled until age 10, and the programme that my mother chose for me was completely her creation. As a three-year-old, I got a hold of the typewriter as a source of learning how to put letters together and create words, sentences and then stories. Later, I learned grammar and spelling through copying countless poems by the greatest Russian poets by hand into my journals. I looked through museum catalogues and albums of different artists in the same fashion kids use their cartoons and picture books. I constantly tried to create my own continuations of stories from that artworks, drawing and painting Perseus and Andromede after Rubens, and many other idols I acquired. At 6, I was given an unrestricted access to the turntable and the entire collection of LPs and soon after discovered that I always cry over Furtwängler’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, but the same piece conducted by Bruno Walter left me cold and unengaged. Simultaneously, my father taught me to read music in all clefs and transpositions and that opened for me the world of orchestral scores which I could sightread without any trouble. I was exposed to serious literature early on, reading the Divine Comedy at 7, thinking it is an awesome fairytale and drawing illustrations to what I read. That same year I destroyed an LP with Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, simply from overplaying it, and the immense passion of that music definitely created a craving for emotional intensity in musical performance that I continued to feel throughout my life.

Such exposure to an array of arts was definitely one of the best things that happened to me, thanks to my mother’s wisdom, and all of that continues to influence me in everything I do. Besides playing piano, I compose, transcribe, write poetry both in Russian and English, draw and paint, and create original projects in which all the arts interconnect.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

It is hard to answer briefly or in any summarizing way.

I have had many obstacles on my way, which could have completely broken me and definitely delayed the development of my professional career. But they taught me to overcome anything and to always keep in mind where I am going and why.

I was born in Izhevsk, a provincial city which is a capital of the Republic of Udmurtia within Russia. When I was 9 and passing required exams to enter the Central Music School in Moscow, the first time I entered the examinations, I was given an A in piano and F in ear training with a remark that I have no musical hearing ( I have perfect pitch). It was suggested I enter a paid study programme (as opposed to a free programme). The school’s hidden assumption was that my home town would sponsor my studies.

The following year, I entered again, was given an A in ear training and F in piano performance with a remark that I have “no technical abilities and will never become a pianist”. My mother lost her pregnancy upon hearing this news and that is how I never got a brother.

At this point, the chair of composition of Moscow Conservatory, Albert Leman, being disgusted about the situation, went to the Ministry of Culture and opened a composition department at the Central Music School of which I became the first student.

A mere three years later, the same person who claimed I had no abilities as a pianist, after listening to 13-year-old me performing Liszt’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ fantasy at a winter exam, exclaimed at his impressed colleagues “what are you surprised about? It was always clear she has limitless technical abilities”.

In the 9th grade, I was thrown out of school for “excessive touring without the consent of administration”. Luckily, I was put back by Ministry of Culture and the school’s dean at the time lost his job.

As a freshman at Moscow Conservatory I soon started playing with best orchestras in the country. At the same time my mother got hit by a car on the street and I had to take care of her after her major trauma.

But my professor, who performed with same orchestras, would call those orchestras and ask them to stop inviting me to play. It was always a major fight when I told her that I had a new engagement. I wasn’t allowed to prepare for competitions. The only one she forced me to apply for was the Chopin competition in Warsaw. It was 9 months of hard work, and three days before I was to fly out to the preliminary round, she asked me “why did you decide to go there? All the jury members this year are my enemies, they won’t let you in no matter how you play, just because you are my student!..” I did not go.

In my third year, she threw me out of her class for accepting a last-minute request to stand in to perform Prokofiev’s Second Concerto with the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia (now Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra), and arranged for me to be kicked out of the Conservatory, having badmouthed me in such a fashion sggesting that I got my engagements through intimate relationships with conductors.

She made sure I was never be able to reinstate my student status at the conservatory. After several unsuccessful attempts to come back (other conservatory professors to whom I tried to transfer, were all scared of ruining their faculty relationships), I ended up completing my studies at Saint-Petersburg conservatory, thanks to maestro Mark Gorenstein who immensely helped me to find my way there.

However, in Saint-Petersburg I was presented with new surprises. I finished the conservatory in 2009 as the best piano graduate of the year, a status that has given me an opportunity to debut at the Saint-Petersburg Philharmonic Society with an orchestra. The performance was a big success, but just 8 weeks later I was given an “F” at each of the entrance exams to the post-graduate program, preventing me from entering.

I was lucky to develop amazing relationships with orchestras and concert presenters in Moscow, which allowed me to build a substantial concerto repertoire (by the end of my conservatory years I have performed over 45 different concerti). But the moment I was thrown out of the Moscow conservatory, I became an outcast and many people turned their backs to me. One of the few people that did not care about any of that was Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra’s music director Mark Gorenstein, who continued our regular collaboration.

But in 2011, maestro Gorenstein got fired from Svetlanov Symphony himself in politically-tailored circumstances and the backlash from that event hit me as well as one of his favorites – more doors got closed before me.

So in 2012 I moved to the US to enter the DMA programme at the invitation of Santiago Rodriguez and to start over in terms of building a career.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am proud of my YouTube project ‘Midnight Pieces’ that I started in 2017, recording works that I pick for their beauty and emotional depth. I tailor them according to an inner pattern: 1 obscure piece, 1 famous piece, 1 Russian piece, 1 transcription of mine. The goal is to produce 53 works by 53 composers, and I have recorded 30 so far. I have discovered a great deal of rarely-played pieces that are to-die-for in their stunning beauty, and I keep discovering more as I develop a habit of digging into different composers’ outputs.

Playlist of Midnight Pieces here:

Another recording that I like is the live performance of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 1, also available on my channel.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think I have special connection to counterpoint and so playing Bach or any other polyphonic music feels very natural and fulfilling. With Bach, I always somehow memorize his music immediately. It feels like I know what will be going on right away, so it is definitely a special connection.

I’ve bonded with Liszt’s music very deeply, having approached it with orchestral thinking and I feel I am good at bringing many colours to it and maintaining multi-layered textures distinguished from each other.

I’ve been told many times that I am a very good Beethoven player. It is a bold thing to claim, but at the same time Beethoven attracts me immensely. There were periods of my life where I did not get to play much of his music and I felt robbed. In recent years, I’ve done much more and always felt I was doing the right thing. Right now I am totally in love with his Eroica Variations. It is such an underplayed set and I am trying to play it as much as I can so people can experience its magic.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I am highly driven by inspiration and I have a huge appetite. 99 percent of the time I play what I want to play and I combine pieces together to match or contrast each other in spirit. Another passion is complete cycles, where you are getting yourself into an imaginary journey through a composer’s life or period of life through the performance of everything written in a particular genre. For instance, this was the main attraction for me when I decided to perform complete 24 Liszt études as a recital program. Indeed, I also am driven by the idea of always posing a challenge for myself, so it was a perfect choice.

In recent years, I have also been writing piano transcriptions that have become a regular part of my programming. Two of them take a whole recital’s half each – Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata and Richard Strauss’ tone poem ‘Ein Heldenleben’. For the latter I put together a programme called ‘Heroes’, playing Beethoven’s Eroica Variations and Wagner-Liszt’s Tannhäuser overture as a first half.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

In 2016, I discovered this unbelievable space, Earl and Darielle Linehan concert hall on campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. My astonishment was so intense that I decided to start summer music festival there. It was an extremely crazy idea since I have never lived nor studied in Baltimore and creating a music series from scratch was akin to operating blindfolded. But it was all worth it – the hall is incredible in its acoustic characteristics, has amazing pianos and very powerful recording capabilities. Every note you play resonates perfectly and can be heard from any seat no matter how soft it is. Each performance in this hall is a true joy, and I am very proud that this summer I was able to pull of the third season of my series, called Festival Baltimore.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It is impossible to pick one. Concert experiences become memorable due to either the overall circumstances or the personal feeling of artistic achievement.

I will never forget my performance at a teenage prison witnessing inmates getting unbelievably moved by a Schubert sonata and the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Or the first time I played the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier without an intermission and how on stage this 2 hour 25 minute recital felt as just half an hour long. Or my debut with an orchestra at Carnegie hall’s Stern Audithorium – this intense feeling of checking off an imaginary milestone. Or the times when I performed my music or my transcriptions for the first time.

Or any of my recitals I play for kids at schools, where I perform the most difficult and intense repertoire for them and they stop moving and get completely absorbed by the music.

Each concert experience is unique and special on its own and there are definitely no ‘regular’ ones.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

There are definitely two types of success to be considered – creative, personal success and social, public success. To me, success is first of all the ability to fully embody my vision, drive and ideas in a musical piece, combined with the ability to deeply reach my audience.

To me, music is a spiritual process. There is something very sacred in how each musical piece unfolds akin a new life, and it releases a lot of feelings in people, when you are able to truly release yours in the real time of live performance. When playing something really demanding – and potentially extremely impactful – it could be easy to get swept away with your focus on technical excellence, ‘craft’, while staying closed emotionally. When you are reaching every note with your inner self, the audience perceives music on a completely different, transcendent level. The biggest success is to be consistent in your openness while maintaining your focus and thus connecting with people on this very deep level. It may sound strange, but when I see people who can’t stop crying after the performance is over, I feel I opened just the right door and it feels like my mission is accomplished.

Indeed, social success is very important and desired as well; it opens doors of amazing venues with instruments that can convey any of your sound color demands, and brings you together with like-minded musicians, but without the first one it would not make any sense.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Never be satisfied with meeting the requirements. If you are happy with what is required, you’re dead as an artist. You have to be always in a process of jumping over your own head, doing more than you think you can do. And you have to be constantly curious. If you want to be a musician, you need to really know music and arts in general. Half of what you do in music is practice and another half – sightreading, listening, discovering, reading, exploring. And not just music for your instrument – everything.

I will give you one example. I was 19 and preparing for my first performance of the Brahms D minor concerto. In heavily tradition-oriented Russian music institutions it is hard to voice your own vision and not being scolded in “this is not Brahms” or “this is not Chopin” manner. So I felt I have to substantiate my personal ideas in this music, even though they all were based on literal and uninfluenced reading of the Brahms’ text. Most of what I had to ‘prove’ was tempi and shaping of the form.

And to support my vision with facts, I researched all Brahms’ music to find links and matching elements. The final movement of the 1st piano concerto has the tempo marking ‘Allegro non troppo’. I found all the “Allegros non troppos” throughout Brahms’ output and at certain moment discovered a piece for choir and orchestra, ‘Gesang der Parzen”, op.89, which shared not only the tempo marking but the key and time signature with the concerto’s final movement. It was a blessing, it helped me immensely.

Of course, I also found all works in D minor, all works sharing same time signatures and tempo markings with other movements of the concerto. I discovered an insane amount of vocal and choral music which most of the pianists unfortunately do not get exposed to.

By the end of my research work I truly felt that I know Brahms as a composer.

I continue conducting researches like this throughout my life and it always brings incredible discoveries and reassurance for ideas that came intuitively.

Another aspect – be supportive and be genuine in it. Support your colleagues, learn from them, help them out instead of being jealous or trying to be better than them. Be better than yourself, and you will see how much more productive it is. And the love and support that you would give to others will always come back to you, directly or indirectly.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

It has been always so difficult to me to think in these categories. Probably, because I have much more ideas and wishes than I have time to fulfill them, so setting exact goals feels somewhat limiting. Instead of 10 years’ goal, I have a list of ideas and projects that I am crossing out as I accomplish them.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

There are different aspects of happiness that I recognize for myself.

Perfect happiness is to be true to yourself. As and artist and as a human being. Life challenges us and makes this hard to achieve at times. But once you get to the point where you are true to yourself in absolutely everything you do, you are free and your soul and spirit are free and that brings peaceful happiness.

There is also happiness that can be achieved through overcoming yourself. I am really happy when I can jump over my own head and reach new a level. It could be a level of understanding, a level of performance, a level of strength, a level of ability, a level of openness – anything that makes you a better human being, the better version of yourself.

What are your current projects?

Recently, I finished two projects related to the music of Modest Mussorgsky to honor his 180-year anniversary. One is the transcription of the complete Mussorgsky’s cycle ‘Songs and Dances of Death’. I wrote a transcription of the ‘Serenade’ from it two years ago and always meant to continue with the rest of them.

The second one is the series of my own artwork for ‘Pictures at an exhibition’. Both are being premiered this week at the Rockefeller University’s Tri-I noon recital series.

It is incredible to deeply connect to Mussorgsky’s music. It is so psychedelic in a sense, it is dark and almost sacred, and provides an infinite variety of ways to interpret it. I am glad I waited so long before getting my hands on it, not playing in my teen years when there was a brief “fashion” to perform the Pictures.

IMG_9857
Baba Yaga by Asiya Korepanova


Asiya was born in Izhevsk, Russia, to a musical family. She began to learn piano when she was 4 years old from her mother, her first piano teacher. She was taught to read music in orchestral clefs by her father, an exemplary composer, at the age of 6, and started composing her own music. At 9, she made her orchestral debut, playing Mozart’s Concerto No.8 with her own cadenza, and performed her first philharmonic recital.

Her love for new music has come effortlessly as a result of her early bond with composition. She was invited to premiere 3 piano concertos by Vladislav Kazenin and Shamil Timerbulatov, with the Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Petersburg Capella Symphony Orchestra, the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra.

Additionally, she has presented the premiere performance of various works by Matthew Evan Taylor, Michael Daugherty, Thomas Sleeper and Orlando Garcia.

Read more