Composer and pianist, Zhen Chen, is a graduate of Central Conservatory of Music in China, held the position as featured pianist with the China Xinhua Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008 to 2010, and has been hailed as “brilliant” by FanFare magazine. Today, Zhen Chen is our featured artist for “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to discover where Chen spends his creative time!
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/ composer/creator?
When I was 13 years old, I got accepted by the Pre-college division of Hebei Art School, Hebei Province, China. That was quite a big deal in my hometown because the school only accept 5-8 young pianists from the whole province. I was so proud of myself and for the first time, I felt I could do this. I love music and I want to be a musician, although I had no idea what “Musician” really meant, I only knew it’s a very cool title and I want to be a musician, very simple.
After 6 years of professional training, I got accepted by Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, the top music school in China. I started my undergraduate there. I still remember I met an old lady at school and she was waiting outside of the music hall for a student recital. She asked me: are you a student here? I said, “yes, I am, I’m a pianist.” She said, “wonderful! How lucky are you! You know what? this is a magic school, students here are all the most talented magicians!” I laughed and said, “no, no, we are not magicians, we are musicians.” The old lady looked at me and said, “It is the same, young man, no matter musicians or magicians, you guys create wonderlands and bring us to there, surprise our eyes and touch our soul, it’s same.”
After that day, I realized that I really want to be a musician and artist.
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
During one of my degree recitals back in college, I was so sick and got a very high fever the day before the recital. I felt dizzy and sleepy but I didn’t want to postpone my recital because I prepared well and practiced a lot. Then the nightmare happened during my performance. I was playing the Beethoven piano sonata No.8, everything went pretty well in 1st movement, but 2nd movement is a slow movement, following the soft and heartbreaking melody I felt warm and comforting, so I closed my eyes and enjoyed the music, then, I passed out, yes, literally, I fall asleep on the stage, in front of everyone, but somehow my fingers still played. The most awkward moment was when I woke up, my fingers stopped on a chord and I didn’t know where I was or which part of the music I stopped at. I was totally blank and terrified. The audience started talking softly and my professor yelled at me from the audience, “I promise you will have a very sweet dream later in my office! But finish the recital now!”
I was so scared and was sweating on the stage like hell. I was worried that my professor might kill me after the recital. But guess what, because of how much I was sweating, my fever was gone after the performance.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?
Home, my sweet home. I’m a lazy person, although, I love to travel very much, especially with someone you love. Home makes me feel safe and comfortable to just be myself. I need to be myself when I compose, practice or anything creative. I go different places for inspirations like all other artists, I try my best to remember the feelings or took some notes to help me to remember what I see and what I feel from the travel, and wait until I back home, I do the creative part.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
The climax before the recapitulation in “Jade”, the technique in that passage is extremely difficult for a pipa player, the pipa player has to shake his/her right hand very fast and even in such long periods to match the process of the transformation of gem Jade—the gem Jade is transformed from minerals under high temperature and high pressure, the gem’s final metamorphosis happens when the music gradually develops into an intensive rotating fingering session of pipa. The music reflects our self, never give up and trust yourself. All kinds of pressures and fails only make us stronger and better, just like how Jade formed.
What does this album mean to you personally?
This album is me, it’s what I learned from my past years, I know I’m not old enough to say I have been through a lot in the past, blah blah blah.. but so what, I want to share my stories to people and I would like to use my music to tell people what I learned from life. For instance the last piece in this album– “Recollection”, is a solo piano piece, the piece opens with portentous intervals, as if a door to the past is gradually opening. Vicissitudes flash back in our memories. We meditate on our life, pull ourselves together, and look forward. “Life goes on” is the underlying theme that I want to tell myself and my audience.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
10 pieces of music in “ERGO” are 10 different stories. Some of them are happy and joyful, some of them are sad and sorrowful, some of them are passionate and impulsive. Every single listener has his/her own version of story in each piece and he/she is the leading role of the stories. I hope “ERGO” is able to recall some precious memories of ours which maybe we already forget a long time ago. I hope “ERGO” is able to touch the softest part of our hearts and make us calm and peace. I hope “ERGO” is able to make us even braver and stronger in our life, just like the theme of the piano piece Recollection—-“pull ourselves together, and look forward, life goes on…”