After an impressive debut at Carnegie Hall this year,pianist Jenny Q Chai is making a stop in the Windy City. As a part of the stop, Chai will beperforming at the Chicago Cultural Center on August 8 at 12:15 p.m. in thePreston Bradley Hall as a part of the Dame Myra Hess Memorial ConcertSeries. I had the chance to talk toJenny Chai about her very busy year so far, and what she’s most looking forwardto in Chicago. For details visit www.chicagoculturalcenter.org.
Is this your first trip to Chicago? Are there any spots you’re looking forward to visit when you’re here?
It absolutely is my first visit in Chicago! With the limited time, I think I’d definitely want to visit Millennium Park and the Ravinia Festival.
Tell me a little bit about your Carnegie Hall debut. What was that like for you?
As a young pianist, programming half of a concert of contemporary pieces (all the ones that are my own personal favorites) and to end with Schumann’s Kreisleriana was not an easy listening concert. The result, both by audience and music critics, turned out better than I could ever expected. I realized an artist should never compromise in the fear of the acceptance of the audience.
And the other plus was, with the expectations of such legendary venue as Zankel Hall, the first time I set my foot on stage for the rehearsal, I felt such strong sense of home. I never felt so at home in other halls before.
What do you most enjoy about classical music? Do you have a favorite composer to perform?
I enjoy the wide range of different musical language, delivered by honest and strong individuals. Playing music is like knowing and making friends with these extraordinary people! Their utmost inner-voices and secrets are shared with me.
For classical composers, I’d say my favorite is Schumann, whose intimacy and solitude remained poetic, and his amorous and imprisoned soul conversed with himself, despite the fact that his environment during the Romantic era was filled with individuals who had become increasingly gregarious and grandiose.
When was the moment you knew you were going to be a pianist?
The moment could be divided to two moments. I knew I was going to be a pianist when I was in first grade. I was selected by the Chinese government as one of 10 children nation-wide that were the “talented” ones and put into the musical education program provided by the government at the Shanghai Music Conservatory. After going to Curtis Institute of Music at the age of 12, I had undergone many self-exploring periods, questioning my pianistic destiny that was imposed on me from a very young age.
The summer when I was 18, after not practicing for the whole summer, the moment I heard some random Chopin played at a tea house in Shanghai, it shook me like an ancient bell and woke me up instantly. That was the clear moment I knew I wanted to be a pianist for myself, not anyone else, and it made all the difference!
What are you most excited about in respect to your Chicago performance?
I am always thrilled by each concert and by the interaction between the listeners and me playing in that specific moment, place and time. It can never be repeated. I so look forward to it because each time, it always surprises me in some ways.