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When fame comes calling

Updated: 2015-06-09 07:29:53

( China Daily )

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Chinese pianist Zhang Haochen is already touring the world at age 25, Zhang Kun reports in Shanghai.

Chinese pianist Zhang Haochen recently collaborated with the Norddeutscher Rundfunk orchestra, playing Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor, under the baton of German conductor Thomas Hengelbrock.

It was the 25-year-old Shanghai native's first presentation with the Hamburg-based broadcaster's in-house orchestra.

The orchestra toured China from May 29 to June 1 and gave its first concert with Zhang at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts, where he returned for three curtain calls and an encore performance of Stravinsky's Petrushka.

Zhang says NDR is known for sticking close to German musical traditions.

Fans praised Zhang's interpretation of Schumann's work on social media, writing that Zhang found an "intricate and fragile balance" in the piece.

"This is among the most representative of works from the German romantic period," Zhang says of the piece.

While being highly creative, Schumann also had to fight a long battle with mental illness, but he faced his situation with bravery and honesty and became one of Europe's greatest composers.

Zhang, who won the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2009, has worked with renowned orchestras such as London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and China National Symphony Orchestra. The pianist has established a career touring the United States, Europe and Asia.

He learned to play the piano at age 4, encouraged by his classical music-loving mother.

"My mother read an article saying that playing the piano helps children to develop both sides of their brain and enhances the development of IQ," the pianist says.

So, he began to play, and his talent showed quickly. What other children took a month to learn took him no more than a week.

When he was 5, he gave his first solo concert at Shanghai Concert Hall, playing the works of Bach. "At the time I began to be aware that playing the piano would be more than just a hobby."

He was admitted to study the piano at Curtis Institute of Music at 15. The prestigious US school in Philadelphia provides full scholarship for all of its students. It is consequently among the most selective institutions of higher education in the US, with one of the lowest acceptance rates in that country.

Moving to the US as a teenager, he went through a difficult time.

"You would feel all alone, dragged out of your comfort zone, and you became an outsider," he recalls.

Playing piano is often a solo exercise - being a pianist can make a person lonely - it isn't the same as being part of a band.

But art and music have given Zhang faith and helped him face life's challenges.

As a boy he was introverted, but with time, he has learned to open up more to his immediate environment though he is still a bit shy.

"Schumann created two fictional characters in his head," Zhang says. "Florestan was the impulsive and outgoing one, while Eusebius was more introverted and dreamy."

You could see the constant shifts between these two personalities, and the poetic inspirations sparked by the confrontations, he says of how some music fans perceive Schumann's life.

Zhang is hoping to play more contemporary Chinese music, although his all-time favorite has been German and Austrian music spanning the Baroque and Romantic periods, because he found something "pure and noble" conserved in their musical traditions.

The young musician, who is a rising star, is forming a solid base of followers within the country and outside, but he errs on the side of caution.

"You can't change your true color to try to please audiences. That is not promoting classical music. You need to guide the audiences, not accommodate them."

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