My Interview with Szuyu “Rachel” Su

rachelIt has twice been my privilege and pleasure to present videos of the young Chinese pianist Szuyu “Rachel” Su, in remarkable performances of Prokofiev and Liszt.  At the time, all I knew about Rachel was what I could glean from her YouTube profile,  Not content with this, I contacted Rachel’s father, Mr. Yuwen Su, who readily agreed to an interview with Rachel, and provided much welcome information about her life and accomplishments to date.

Rachel was born on March 14, 1998, and lives in Tainan City, Taiwan.  She began taking piano lessons at age four, and is currently studying with Ms. Chaoyin Chen, Dean of the Music Department at National Kaohsiung Normal University.  Her first recital took place in May 2008, where in addition to Schumann’s “Arabesque” and Liszt’s “Un Sospiro”, she played this lovely transcription by Balakirev of Glinka’s song, “The Lark”.

Two weeks ago, Rachel took part in a competition in Hong Kong, where among other works, she played the “Tempest” sonata by Beethoven and the Ballade Op. 23 by Chopin.  In the Open Section for pianists 32 years old and younger, (where 1st and 2nd prizes were not awarded) Rachel received the Fifth Prize.  This was a great triumph for an eleven-year-old!  She is looking forward to another competition next June, where she hopes to play Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

I asked Rachel what piece of music is on her piano right now.  It turns out that she is practicing Liszt’s formidable “La Campanella” and the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise by Chopin.  Because of the amount of homework she is required to do, she is able to practice piano and violin (a second instrument is required by her school) for only around one hour on school days.  Mr. Su stated that Taiwan’s education system doesn’t nourish musical talent, and that Rachel would do better if she had a special course designed for her.

As Rachel speaks limited English, Mr. Su served as translator for this short interview.

DERRICK:  Hello, Rachel!  Please accept my compliments on the many beautiful videos of your playing that are available on YouTube.  Your repertoire includes composers from Bach to Kevin Kern.  Do you have a favorite composer, or composers?

RACHEL:  I like to listen to Liszt’s compositions, and to play Chopin’s compositions.

DERRICK:  I know you have very little time to spend on YouTube, but do you have any favorite pianists?

RACHEL:  Yes, although I know very few pianists, Lang Lang, Kissin, and Horowitz are my favorites.

DERRICK:  Other than music, what are your favorite subjects in school?

RACHEL:  I like mathematics the best.

DERRICK:  What are your hobbies?  Do you play soccer?

RACHEL:  No, I have never played soccer, but I like to swim.

DERRICK:  May I ask, what is your dream or ambition for your life?

RACHEL:  I dream of being a great pianist, touring worldwide, and sharing my music with people.

DERRICK:  Rachel, it has been a pleasure getting to know you.  I look forward to more examples of your playing, and will follow your career with great interest.

I would like to conclude this short look at a remarkable talent with a beautiful performance of Kevin Kern’s “The Enchanted Garden”.  This was recorded in competition in September 2007 when Rachel was just nine years old.  Although it is a delight to watch someone so young play so well, I encourage you at least once to close your eyes while listening to this piece.  When I close mine, I would never guess that I am listening to a nine-year-old girl.  I just hear an artist.

Thank you, Rachel.

Published in: on October 20, 2009 at 11:50 pm  Comments (6)  
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Franz Liszt: Etude No. 39 “Un Sospiro” Pianist – Marc-Andre Hamelin

hamelinFor many of you, this video will serve as an introduction to the pianist Marc-André Hamelin, who was born in Montreal in 1961.  Hamelin is an extraordinary virtuoso who has performed and recorded much of the less well-known repertoire, including many works that less technically gifted pianists would not even attempt.  Yet, as this video demonstrates, he plays with a musical feeling no less exceptional than his technique.

“Un Sospiro” translates as “The Sigh”.  We read on Wikipedia that this etude by Liszt “is a study in crossing hands, playing a simple melody with alternating hands, and arpeggios.”  It is also exceptionally beautiful, and though the image quality in this video is not especially good, the sound is excellent.

Though no one should be placed in the position of following Marc-Andre Hamelin, I am happy to present a second performance of “Un Sospiro”, this one featuring my favorite young pianist, Szuyu Su, whom I introduced last month playing Prokofiev’s “Harp” prelude.  Rachel, as she likes to be called, is a little older in this video, perhaps 9 years old, and I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb at all in predicting a brilliant concert career for her in the years ahead.

If you would like to see more of Rachel, you can see all of her YouTube uploads (54 at latest count) here:

Published in: on October 17, 2009 at 1:02 am  Comments (1)  
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Sergei Prokofiev: Prelude Op. 12, No. 7 “The Harp”

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev composed his Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 12 during the years 1906 – 1913, while a student at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.  Prokofiev himself gave the premiere of this work in Moscow in 1914.

“The Harp” Prelude is the seventh piece from this group, and exists in two versions, one for piano and one for harp.  Here, in another clip from his 1978 recital at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, is the great Emil Gilels performing the piano version.

I thought it was both interesting and fun to compare the two arrangements, and so here, performing the transcription for harp, is Anna Verkholantseva at the Royal Palace in Gödöllö, Hungary in October 2006.

And finally, a surprise.  Performing the same piece one more time is one of my newest and happiest YouTube discoveries.  This young woman is Szuyu Su.  We learn from her YouTube page that she is from Tainan City, Taiwan, Republic of China, and was born in 1998.  Her English name is Rachel, and this video was made when Rachel was eight years old.