Celebrating Culture Through the Piano Q&A

| 09 Feb 2015 | 10:58

It was fate that brought Jiaxin Tian to New York to study music. Having been on a bunch of auditions in different cities, her last stop was New York. After that final try-out was over, and she was on her way back to her native China. On that plane ride, she met a professor from the Manhattan School of Music. It was then that she knew she would choose the school to further her study of the piano, and the rest is musical history here in the city.

On February 18, the 27-year-old will play a solo concert at Carnegie Hall, just in time for Chinese New Year. Having been born in Beijing, she hopes to express her feelings for Chinese culture through this performance. “You can hear the sound of ancient Chinese history from the Ming period through the Cultural Revolution, and in the present day, you can hear us giving our best wishes to China,” she said.

You moved to New York in 2010. What did you think when you first got here?

Actually, my first time here was to audition. I traveled to different cities like Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and Boston and the last stop was New York City. When I got here, I thought, “This is so amazing.” Because we have a lot of concert halls like Carnegie, Lincoln Center and the Met, there are so many opportunities to listen to the best in music. Finally, I got into the Manhattan School of Music, and when I got here, it was the summertime. It was even more exciting to enjoy the summer in the city. I met my parents’ friends, and actually now they are my godparents. I lived with them for the first year and they really helped me. Everybody told me, “New York City is so expensive and the spaces are so tiny.” But when I got to their home, I was amazed. My godfather collects antique art and loves Chinese culture, so I saw a lot of Chinese-style stuff. And my godmother, her name is Erica Mason, she was an opera singer and they have a wonderful piano in their house. So when I saw that, I said, “This is my new life. Oh my goodness.”

I read that you ran into a professor from the Manhattan School of Music on a plane.

When I finished my audition here, I flew back to China. And on the plane, I met a lady. She just smiled at me and I smiled at her. And she said, “You look so cute. What are you doing here?” And I said, “I just finished my audition.” So she asked me, “Are you a musician?” And I said, “Yes, I’m a pianist.” And she said, “I’m a musician too. I’m a violinist.” And she asked me what schools I applied to. And when I mentioned the Manhattan School of Music she said she was on faculty there. And she said, “My husband is piano faculty.” He was on the plane and came to meet me. There were other schools that gave me scholarships, but I still chose New York City, because that was really special.

You went on to get two degrees there. What was your experience like at the school?

Yes, I got my master’s degree in 2012 and got a Professional Studies certification in 2013. I studied with Jeffrey Cohen there and he is really amazing. Now we are the best of friends. I got the opportunity to play with Philippe Entremont and now he is my mentor. Everyone knows he is amazing. He just celebrated his 80th birthday and he can still play really well. We will play together at a special event to celebrate China and France’s culture of friendship. They chose me for the Chinese part and him for the French part.

Your first solo concert at Carnegie Hall was in February of 2013. Were you nervous?

Kind of, but more excited because that was my dream come true. When I got here, I always went to Carnegie to see different artists. But finally, after three years, I got the opportunity. That’s just unbelievable.

Your show this month includes a world premiere of “Chinese Dream.” How can you explain it?

I played a concerto version of it in China this past November at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing with the National Symphony Orchestra. This is the first time I will play the solo version in New York City. Our government gave this topic about the dream of China. The composer, Zhao Zhang, composed this piece to tell people about the rich history of China. Because it is at the piano, we don’t have language, we are not like singers, so all I can do is use the piano sounds and give them imagination.

Your father is a composer, and your mother, a soprano. How did they react to you wanting to be a pianist?

They wanted me to play, but they didn’t use the pushy way. They brought me to neighbors’ houses and I saw kids playing the piano and felt so differently. I felt it was really amazing that you could use the paddle and feet and hands together to play. I told my parents, “I want to learn that.” And mom said, “That is so boring and a waste of time.” When she said that, I wanted to do it even more. I took my first lesson at three. My parents gave me a special teacher and said, “You only have one lesson and if you don’t play well, the teacher will not allow you to go there again.” So every time I went to a lesson, it was perfect. The six years of middle school and high school for me was really hard. Every day after school, I needed to practice for six hours and then had to do my homework.

What’s your favorite piece from your show coming up?

Wow. Every one is my favorite, that’s why I chose them. But Chopin Number 2 sonata is the top for my whole life up until now. You feel excited, and sometimes anxious about your life and always want to do better. It’s a really emotional piece.

To learn more about Jiaxin Tian, visit www.jiaxintian.com/#new-year

For tickets to her show, see www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2015/2/18/0800/PM/Jiaxin-Tian-Piano/