Why are so many good pianists from China?

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Gone are the days when music aficionados complained that pianists from the East played like machines – technical and clean, capable of being fast, but with no emotional spark and necessary musicality. Now Chinese pianists are among the world’s best.

The emergence of young performers of stature like Lang Lang, Li Yundi, Chen Sa and Wang Yujia, among others, and the arrival of Chinese students in Europe and the US with an impressive level of skill, made Mexican pianist and teacher Fernando Garcia Torres want to figure out their “secret”.

In search of this, Torres went to several conservatories in Hong Kong, Beijing, Tiajin and Shenzhen, where he learnt about Lang Lang’s school – and the Shanghai Music School itself.

After several weeks of meetings and lectures by schools and conservatories in these cities, his impression is that the secret is “studying 28 hours a day”.

A country that just two generations ago banned Beethoven’s music for being “bourgeois”, now has 30 million piano students. The ban had been imposed during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

According to Torres, “Chinese people are very musical and have trained many teachers in Europe and the US”.

“They are refining all that they played mechanically, they are working a lot on the sound quality with a much more polished, neat and refined interpretation”, he said.

Torres also pointed to the strong “work ethic” regime on students from their childhood, combined with family support.

The government provides very well equipped conservatories as well as good teachers with overseas training. International performers are invited to give lectures.

“From what I have seen, they have very good and many instruments: here every student of a music school gets minimum eight hours daily with a good instrument; they have entire buildings with nothing but study rooms” for hundreds of piano students, he revealed.

Then, music scores are published “at a very reasonable price”.

Of course, in comparison with the West, the Chinese still have very few concerts to go to, but this could be compensated with time, Torres said.

The equation seems complete: among millions of students, with good means and increasingly better training in their range, it is natural that great pianists start should start appearing in China.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian magazine in Australia)

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