Making musical choices with pianist Claire Huangci

Claire Huangci will be performing at Southminster Church, 15 Aylmer Ave., on Jan. 18. Photo: Mateusz Zahora

The talented young American pianist Claire Huangci will be performing in the Upbeat! Productions Master Piano Recital Series this week at Southminster United Church. She recently won the Concours Geza Anda Zurich 2018. This concert will be her Ottawa debut. Before her demanding performance, she answered some questions from ARTSFILE.

Q. I understand this is your first visit to Ottawa. What will you be playing?

A. Chopin and Rachmaninov preludes.

Q. What binds these pieces together?

A. I have been fascinated with the musical form, preludes, recently, because they evoke such a fleeting emotion. One that disappears almost before you notice it. Every composer has a particular way of treating this form, with spontaneity and intimacy, so the combination of Chopin and Rachmaninov preludes seemed very fitting.

Q. Your most recent record features music by Rachmaninoff. What was the attraction? 

A. It’s the complete 24 preludes he wrote. (It was) extremely challenging to find the right mood for each and taxing to play as well. Rachmaninov was a humble man. This is an element that I hope to share in his works. He was also a phenomenal pianist and one feels that in his compositions.

Q. The previous record, I believe, was Chopin … So many tackle his music, why did you want to do that? 

A. The complete nocturnes tell a full story of Chopin’s life because he began writing the genre before leaving Poland and the final nocturnes are among his final works. So I felt that I was documenting his own personal diary in a way with that recording.

Q. Do you have favourite composers or periods of music? What kind of music moves you?

A. I have many interests and don’t have a favorite composer in fact. Baroque, classical, romantic, it’s all intriguing, and I work often nowadays with contemporary composers, including Claude Baker, Cord Meijering, John Corigliano.

Q. The words child prodigy are part of your biography. What does this label mean to you. 

A. Something way in the past. It’s a label from a time before I knew what it meant.

Q. Tell me a bit about your early days on the instrument? 

A. I was about seven years old and my parents thought it would be nice to have a hobby. It was a long time coming but gradually, I grew to love it.

Q. Reading of your evolution as a musician, there seems to have been a delayed decision to pursue a solo piano career. Why? 

A. Being a musician is never easy, you have to give it your 100 per cent effort. And there are also cons in the profession; the constant traveling, the loneliness. To decide to take the plunge and go to Germany for studies was a major step. But even then, I knew there was a big chance things wouldn’t go as planned.

Q. You recently won a major competition. These events are part of a pianist’s career. Do you enjoy them or do they stress you out?

A. Competitions are an essential evil for almost all musicians. I am not a fan of them myself but last year, I decided to try my hand at it again after a five year hiatus. The main reason was that the competition I took part in has a special emphasis on classical repertoire, and I wanted to show what I had learned in Germany since 2007.

Q. I’m sure you are on the road a lot these days and rehearsing and performing and rehearsing and performing. Do you have something or someone who takes you away from music for a moment? 

A. I spend a lot of time with friends and colleagues, they keep one grounded.

Q. Do you have time for relationships? It is a lonely existence. Is that difficult?

It’s definitely difficult, don’t have much to add. 🙂

Q. What’s your next goal? Next record? 

A. I have a concerto album coming out this summer, followed by a chamber album. It’s exciting to venture into the studio with good friends and create something magical.

Q. Where would you like to be in 5 years, 10 years?

A. Still playing, still travelling, meeting new people and learning new music.

Upbeat! Productions presents Claire Huangci
Where: Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Ave.
When: Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.