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Pianist Chen Sa, violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite have just completed their tour of six Chinese cities. Photos provided to China Daily
Award-winning pianist Chen Sa does not want to be known as 'Piano Princess'. The low-profile performer tells Xu Jingxi she is proud of her imperfections.
Wearing an elegant purple dress and short sassy haircut, Chen Sa walked onto the stage, smiled, made a slight bow and sat in front of the piano. Throughout the two-hour concert while she played with Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and Lithuanian cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite, the Chinese pianist was restrained. While some other pianists, such as Lang Lang, energetically bend their bodies forward and backward and make strong facial expressions, Chen nods slightly, shrugs a little and pouts to the melody's flow.
Off stage, Chen keeps a low-profile, too. Although she is one of the three biggest names among young pianists in China, the other two being Li Yundi and Lang Lang, she hardly appears as the center of attention in entertainment news.
"There are inevitable connections between art and business but I don't know how to combine the two. Fortunately, as a soloist without my own orchestra or company to worry about, I'm 'privileged' to handle art and business separately," Chen says before the start of the concert with Kremer and Dirvanauskaite. The trio just toured six Chinese cities.
Chen has cut down her concerts to about 60 every year since 2010, compared to many soloists who stage more than 100 performances a year.
"The life of a pianist shouldn't only be about playing the piano. A musician needs to go through all kinds of experiences that can enrich his or her insights about life," Chen adds.
Going to exhibitions, hiking in the wilderness and reading fill up Chen's spare time. She is recently chewing Milan Kundera's Life Is Elsewhere, an epic of adolescence, and Shen Cong-wen's Random Notes of Traveling in Hunan, which uncovers the tragic lives of the laboring people.
The pianist also deepens her knowledge about life and society through social work. She performed for autistic children in Beijing in mid-May.
"Music shouldn't exist in concert halls only," Chen says.
Chen's stage presence may be calm but her music is upbeat with a variety of volume, tempo and tone. Thanks to her rich life experiences, the pianist is able to easily build connections with her tunes and deliver an emotional performance.
"I value self expression in my recitals and recordings, always hoping to transmit personal ideas across to the audience," Chen says.
She rose to worldwide fame with soulful recordings of Chopin music, but she has become more adventurous in recent years, playing less-known classical, romantic, impressionist and contemporary pieces.
Chen attributes her risk-taking spirit to Kremer.
"I have worked with Kremer quite a few times since 2007. He is a maverick artist and has inspired me a lot," Chen says.
"He loves performing and recording little-known pieces, while many musicians play it safe choosing only well-known pieces. People tend to buy tickets or CDs when they see familiar names on the play list," Chen says during the phone interview, talking at a fast rate and bursting into bright laughter from time to time.
The 34-year-old is outspoken about her loves and hates, and admits that she is tired of being called "Piano Princess".
"I'm not a princess. I'm not perfect. I'm emotional, subjective and stubborn, but I like my imperfections. I'm not a delicate vase," Chen says.
In fact, the typically hearty Chong-qing native sounds nothing like an aloof princess.
A princess wouldn't sleep soundly in the aisle of a crowded carriage as Chen did when she traveled from Chongqing to Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital, every weekend to take lessons from Dan Zhaoyi at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music when she was only 9.
Chen made her name after winning awards at international competitions. She pocketed a prize in three of the world's four most prestigious piano competitions: Leeds, Chopin and Van Cliburn.
Millions of piano students in China dream of duplicating Chen's success.
"There's nothing wrong with taking part in competitions, but children and their parents had better not set up a too concrete goal for music study such as becoming a famous professional," Chen says. "Don't fantasize about the end. Think about why you first start to learn playing the piano it should be for love of music."
Chen is excited about her upcoming schedule. She will present a recital in Beijing in July, join Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra's concerts in China in September and tour Europe in October.
She will also be a judge at the renowned Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition in Italy to "meet inspirational young talents".
"I'm always looking for interesting sparks for my music, whether I'm performing or not."
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(China Daily 06/14/2013 page18)