A Chinese pianist can tell her good shows from bad

Updated: 2015-05-11 14:19

By Chen Nan(China Daily USA)

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Like many girls, Zuo Zhang loved Barbie dolls when she was a child. However, when her mother took her to buy a present for her third birthday, she chose a piano over a doll.

"When we passed a musical instrument store, I was immediately drawn to the sound of the piano. That was my first date with the piano," says Zuo.

Zuo seemed destined to be a pianist. She recently performed at the opening ceremony of the BNP Paribas Rising Stars Piano Festival, which was held from April 23 to 25 at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

The 27-year-old pianist had an easy connection with the audience and a deep intimacy with the music when she played sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert.

"Her playing is very emotional and sensitive. She has an instinct about music," says Paul-Arnaud Pejouan, the artistic director of the festival, which was first held in Beijing in 2011.

The festival is targeted at nurturing the next wave of piano virtuosos in China, providing them a stage to display their talent and identifying the new rising stars in the piano world.

"For me, playing those great works is like a process of finding the truth about music, about the composers and also about myself," says Zuo, with a big smile.

"It's hard to describe what the truth is but after each show, I knew whether I made it or not. I can feel it."

Zuo entered the world of classical music when she moved to Berlin at age 3.

The pianist recalls that during her first few years in Germany, she was isolated in the new, foreign environment. Her parents would take her to concerts at the Berliner Philharmonie, which was close to their house.

"My childhood was all about classical music. When I watched the musicians playing onstage, I pretended to be one of them," she says. "I never intended to make music my profession but unconsciously, I became a pianist."

She started piano lessons at age 5 and two years later, she won third place at the International Steinway Piano Competition.

"My parents didn't expect that I could win an award at a piano competition, let alone work as a pianist," says Zuo.

When she returned to her hometown, Shenzhen, Guangdong province, in 1995, Zuo enrolled at the Shenzhen Arts School and began studying with renowned piano educator Dan Zhaoyi, who also trained Chinese pianists Li Yundi and Chen Sa.

Zuo won more national and international competitions and held her first concerto at age 10.

"Dan helped me improve my technique and deepen my understanding of classical music," she says.

"For me, classical music is an independent system. It's like wine. The more you taste it, the more you like it."

To further her study, Zuo went to the Eastman School of Music for her bachelor degree and she has been pursuing her master degree at Juilliard School in New York since 2012.

The same year, after winning at Petschek Piano Recital Award, Zuo got the opportunity to give a recital at Lincoln Center, which enabled her to obtain a contract with Columbia Artists Management, a well-known international talent management agency based in New York.

Now, the pianist has a hectic schedule, touring the world and working on her album. She just moved to Paris and is preparing for recitals in Europe and the United States.

Zuo has sound advice for any aspiring musician: "I know that I have the talent and luck. But still, practice is the key to maintain stable technique and exciting creativity."


 A Chinese pianist can tell her good shows from bad

Zuo Zhang has worked her way to be a promising pianist on the world stage. Provided To China Daily

(China Daily USA 05/11/2015 page8)