Thursday, January 23, 2003

Musical cultures blending, pianist says

Chinese-American to play at CCM

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

With phenomena such as Tan Dun's Oscar-winning film score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, Chinese music is in the public eye more than ever before.

What: Chinese New Year Concert 2003, Frederic Chiu (below), piano; CCM Concert Orchestra, Xian Zhang, conductor; Qin Xueling, Beijing Opera soloist; Karen Han, erhu; and other Chinese instrumentalists.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Corbett Auditorium, University of Cincinnati
Tickets: $20; $50 box seats; $10 students. 761-0245
"It's interesting to hear how Asian music is influenced by Western composers, and how Western music has influenced Asian composers," says Chinese-American pianist Frederic Chiu.

Chiu will perform a piano concerto by Chinese-born composer Bright Sheng in Saturday's 2003 Chinese New Year Concert in the University of Cincinnati's Corbett Auditorium.

The concerto, Red Silk Dance, fits the evening's theme of blending cultures. Although written for a "Western" symphony orchestra, its harmonies sound Asian, and its rhythms are free-flowing, Chiu says.

Chiu, who began his concert career in Paris, knows something about blending cultures. His parents emigrated from mainland China in the '50s. (They live in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming.) From them, the pianist inherited discipline, he says, as well as an interest in math, science and computers. He earned degrees in music and computer science from Indiana University, inspired by a book by Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Basic Books; $21), that finds parallels between math and art and music.

Sheng's concerto is a diversion for Chiu, who is more known for his performances and recordings of Liszt, Schubert, Chopin and Prokofiev. Ruggedly individual, Chiu created a sensation in the 1993 Van Cliburn Competition when he was eliminated before the final round. His far-from-the-mainstream repertoire - mostly piano transcriptions - won the audience but scandalized the jury.

But Chiu emerged the victor. The Indiana-raised pianist carved out a career in Paris, which, until two years ago, was his home base for making 21 CDs - including the complete piano works of Prokofiev - on the Harmonia Mundi label. His penchant for transcriptions, such as his own arrangement of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije Suite, continues. Recently, he opened the National Symphony Orchestra season with a blockbuster rendition of Beethoven's Fifth by Liszt.

Still an individual, Chiu, who lives in Connecticut, is developing a new program for pianists called "Deeper Piano Studies." It literally takes pianists out of the practice room and into the frying pan.

"We cook our own meals, and we cook the same meal many times, in order to try to improve," he says. "We use that experience directly in how we practice at the piano, and we see lots of parallels."

It's clear he likes finding parallels: cooking and music, science and art, East and West.

"With communication being so easy today, it's almost impossible not to have different cultures mixing," Chiu says. "This mix is going to become more and more imperceptible and richer."


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