Pianist Wang Congyu on what it means to be a young classical musician in today’s world
He also took the opportunity to talk about his new album, Charme, a collection of pieces by French composer Francis Poulenc
SINGAPORE — Last month, local musician Wang Congyu performed a concert in Singapore, the last stop in his international tour. But more than just performing a concert, the classical pianist also took the opportunity to talk about his new album, Charme, a collection of pieces by French composer Francis Poulenc.
“I had the idea of recording the complete works of Poulenc since my student days,” said Wang, who was selected for a scholarship that enabled him to attend the prestigious Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, where he studied with renowned pianists Jean-Marc Luisada and Odile Catelin-Delangle.
What's the most rewarding experience producing this CD?
Recording is a very difficult task, because when you are inside the studio, you hear everything so much more clearly. Whether it is moving your fingers, hands, or even grinding your teeth, you can hear each and every subtle sound clearly. Therefore, you know you cannot make a mistake when you are recording. When I listened to my own recordings and had to hear my mistakes, naturally I was discouraged. But because of these experiences, I think I have found my personality in music, and found out who I am. I don't feel ashamed of my music now. Recording in a studio and producing an album, definitely gave me the exposure I needed and helped me mature.
He had studied repertoire by composers such as Bach, Chopin and Beethoven, but he was enraptured by Poulenc’s Les Chemins De L’amour when he heard the song on the radio. “(It was) one of the most beautiful piano recordings ... I tried looking up the scores online but I couldn’t find anything,” he said, adding that he sought to learn other works by Poulenc, hoping to find this particular score. (Wang’s teacher gave him the original score of the song he had heard on the radio for his birthday in 2012.)
He studied with Gabriel Tacchino at La Schola Cantorum in Paris (Tacchino was the only piano student that Poulenc had ever taught) and, together, they worked on many of Poulenc’s pieces. “To me, there is no better person to learn his pieces with,” said Wang about working with Tacchino.
Hence, the contents of his debut album as a Young Steinway Artist. Of course, not every composition has been included, as Poulenc’s repertoire is so vast. An initial set of 26 of Poulenc’s “more melodic and popular pieces” were chosen, including Trois Mouvements Perpetuels, Melancolie and Les Chemins De L’amour.
“I was still serving National Service when I recorded this album and the challenge was that there wasn’t an acoustic piano for me to practise on at camp. Nevertheless, it was a blessing that I was in a music band and I played a lot of jazz and pop music. This whole experience helped greatly. Before the actual recording session, I would record myself on my Steinway-Boston baby grand so that I could listen back to my own playing and learn the pieces by heart. Each track represents a certain vivid memory, be it Paris, National Service and the journey of being a Young Steinway Artist, because my music is my life, my stories and my experiences.”
Sometimes hailed as a “complete musician”, Wang has garnered acclaim as a recitalist, accompanist and chamber musician. He has since made more than 500 recitals around the world including countries such as France, England, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Reunion Island, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and, of course, Singapore. He is also the founder and president of both the Association des Jeune Musicien (Young Musician’s Association) and Virtuose Ecole de Musique (Virtuoso Music School) in Reunion Island.
But Wang said recording this album has been a wonderful opportunity. If only because it gave him the chance to learn from his mistakes. Literally. “Recording is a very difficult task because you hear everything so much more clearly when you are inside the studio. Whether it is moving your fingers, hands, or even grinding your teeth, you can hear each and every subtle sound clearly. Therefore, you know you cannot make a mistake when you are recording.
“When I listened to my own recordings and had to hear my mistakes, naturally, I was discouraged,” he continued. “Through these experiences, I think I have found my personality in music. I don’t feel ashamed of my music now. Recording in a studio and producing an album definitely gave me the exposure I needed and helped to advance my musical development.”
One of the things he would like changed, though, is people’s perception of what it means to be a young classical pianist. “While I was living in Paris, people were seldom surprised to hear that I am a professional pianist although it is a rare occupation to have. In Singapore, I am often asked: ‘So do you have a grade 8 (the highest piano qualification)?’ or ‘Are you playing in an orchestra?’ People ought to Google ‘classical concert pianists’ more,” quipped the 23-year-old.
But he did say that he thought audiences here were changing their minds about classical music. “I recently played a piano recital in Singapore and I was very pleased with the audience I had. Not just the fact that more than half the people were young music lovers, but the respect they had for the music was just moving.
“Classical music is for all to enjoy. Classical music is not old, and classical music is not boring. The problem with classical music is that its audience is ageing. The challenge is to make this music available to young people. They must be the new target.”
More about Wang Congyu can be found at http://congyuwang.com.