East meets West: Asian pianist and European training


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East meets West: Asian pianist and European training

Since a time in history, examinations and certificates have become an inseparable part of being an Asia music student. From primary school exams to the Diploma of Secondary Education examination, from professional diploma courses to summer study tours, most people would put their hearts and souls into learning in order to get the sheet of certificate. 

At a musician’s standpoint, not only can we learn our music knowledge on the printed pages, most importantly music studies can train us to think independently. However, when most Asian students are learning for the certificate, how many of them can truly understand the meaning of music making?

In recent years, there is an increasing trend for music students in Asia to travel and study abroad. Indeed, if music students in Asia can afford their fees and rent, it is vital for them to study in Europe, where Western Classical music originates and to experience the musical culture. As an Asian musician, this is what one has to do in order to penetrate European music – the Western Art. Playing the piano is a long and deep learning process and if one only learns five Beethoven sonatas or two sets of Mazurkas from Chopin - for the sake of examinations, one cannot say that he or she knows the composer. Coming from an Asia background, I can truly say this is something that is not appreciated enough, especially in the Asian culture at present. Parents and teachers now wanted to achieve too much too soon, and often judge one’s achievements by the number of certificates. 

Music studies in Europe or America will no doubt broaden our vision, not only will we appreciate the music aesthetic from another perspective, but also giving us the opportunity to allow our career evolve. Take China as an example, students started to travel and develop their career outside their country after the Cultural Revolution, because one could not really develop a career in China. Even at present, Chinese pianists can of course develop in a certain way but never the complete part. One has to travel to both places - Europe and America. Europeans are more precise on certain styles, but sometimes European’s way of interpretation is somewhat narrowed. The American schools such as Curtis or Juilliard have much freedom (sometime too much!). It is the balance between the two. 

Having observed many students coming over from Asia, conservatoires in China or in Asian countries are good for a certain age, but they will not be able to take their career to the next level. Unfortunately, it is sad to say, the culture environment simply does not prepare students for a musical career. For example, Hong Kong is a beautiful city, but Hong Kong cannot produce another Horowitz just by using resources in Hong Kong; same with Malaysia and Japan. One has to travel to Europe and America to learn with all the distinguished musicians. For example, working with Sir Mark Elder in Manchester or Sir Simon Rattle in Germany, otherwise Asia pianists will never get a career going. 

Very often too, Asian students become a finger machine due to the long hours of practice in the practice room. If one decided to become a professional musician, one must have a well-rounded culture and further develop as a human being. This does not only means in music but in fact, anything we do and anything we learn will influence what we do musically. If we spend our lives within the four walls in a practice room, all we are capable to express later is our feelings of a practice room. Any little things that we experience in life will present in our music. One must pay a visit to an art gallery, replacing the few extra hours that we spend at the piano. This will surely bring our emotional thoughts to a more sophisticated level!  

Blanc Wan
July 2014


Blanc Wan - 2014Blanc Wan (please click here for Full Biographical details):
Blanc Wan has established a profile as a pianist, musicologist and educator. He is the Chairman of Hong Kong International Pianists’ Association, the Artistic Director of the Hong Kong International Piano Conference and a governor of the Royal Northern College of Music. Graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music and University of Oxford, he has given many highly acclaimed recitals throughout Europe, Asia and North America including the Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, United States and a recital in Poland to mark the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth in 2010. As the Editor in Chief of The Pianist magazine, he has published interviews with most of the world's greatest pianists such as Lang Lang, Dame Fanny Waterman, Jörg Demus, Leslie Howard, Peter Donohoe, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Pascal Rogé, Pascal Devoyon, John Lill, Peter Frankl, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Stephen Hough, among others. He has been invited on the juries of many prestigious piano competitions in Asia. In 2014, Blanc Wan will serve on the juries of Asia Piano Open Competition, Hong Kong International Piano Open Competition – The Liszt Award, as well as Macau Youth Piano etc.