The Maestro: Pianist CongYu Wang Speaks On His Legacy in Classical Music


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Image courtesy of CongYu Wang

Renowned soloist Congyu Wang may be Singaporean but his talents have gone well beyond regional boarders. The internationally renowned musician has garnered critical acclaim with a repertoire of skills that includes recitalist, accompanist and chamber musician. LUXUO speaks to the multi-hyphenate on his plans to grow the appreciation of classical music to a new generation, the highs and lows of his career thus far and Wang even recounts a few tête-à-têtes he had that shaped his journey along the way.

What inspired you to pursue a career in music and who has been the most important influence on your musical career?

My biggest musical influence came from my teacher Jean Marc Luisada. He was the person who taught me how to love music again. The humble beginnings of how I started my musical journey in France is a reminder to myself to never take anything for granted. I never lost the drive to keep challenging myself to play new repertoire, to travel to new destinations and to discover new ways to promote music. 

Which performances or recordings are you most proud of?

This is really hard to choose. I recently recorded a series of my own original compositions on Apple Classical. I am working very closely with my music producer Chris Craker who produces music for Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan. Something that is outside of what I usually do, I am very excited for the release of these new recordings!

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Image courtesy of CongYu Wang

Which works or composers do you think you perform best?

In the last season, I played a lot of Rachmaninoff, as it was the 150th anniversary. I love to play the classical repertoire, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt but I would think I am more comfortable with Ravel, Debussy, Gershwin, and Rachmaninoff.

What do you do off-stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I travel a lot. I perform six or seven times a year on Seabourn, an ultra-luxurious cruise line. I find inspiration through other cultures, immersing myself in new environments each time I travel. I try to keep an open mind really. My favorite quote by Ibn Battuta goes, “Travelling, it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”. 

How do you cope with long piano rehearsals?

Long hours at the piano is something no pianist can escape from. One has to find the most effective way to learn music, by understanding the functions of the mind and the connection between the mind and the body. Long hours at the piano could also be very damaging to the body, especially the back. I try to stay fit by working out a few times a week even when I am travelling. 

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Image courtesy of CongYu Wang

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I have a long list of music I have always wanted to perform, this list could last me a lifetime. I try to change my repertoire each season like how a restaurant would change its menu. I also often include music that speaks to the audience, for instance, I would play Butterfly Lovers if I am going to tour in Asia or I would play Rhapsody in Blue if I’m going to perform in LA.

You are Singapore-born but have become a citizen of the world. Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I don’t have a particular favorite concert venue in mind. I really enjoy sharing my music with people, be it on a cruise, in a concert hall, or in a museum. I have played in hospitals, old folks homes, and even prisons. I love to do new things. During the pandemic, I did a series of live concerts out in nature. I performed at the Croatian National Archives, at the Monastère de Sant Pere des Rodes (Where they filmed Game of Thrones), at the Iuvanum in Pescara, and at the Royal Palace of Godollo in Budapest. Every venue is magical and creates wonderful memories that are unique and life-changing.

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Image courtesy of CongYu Wang

What are the greatest challenges you have faced in your career thus far?

When I first came back to Singapore, I had to do my National service. The biggest challenge for me was to get back on track after those two years. I had to start over again. 

What can be done to grow classical music’s audience?

I believe there is a new wave of music lovers especially in the new generation. The future belongs to them! My job as a performer is to ensure that the art form and the traditions of live performances continue to stay relevant in our society. My last concert this year at the Victoria Concert Hall was sold out, a huge improvement from my previous visit in 2022. Promoting music on social media has played a big part in that, however to grow classical music audiences on a national level would involve schools and educational partners to actively teach young children to enjoy music. 

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Image courtesy of CongYu Wang

Can you recount a memorable piano concert performance?

My most memorable performance would be at the Cirque de Mafate, a caldera created by a volcanic collapse. This concert was held up the mountains above 1400m altitude and the only way to get there was by hiking as there were no roads. The organisers had to transport the piano tied to a helicopter. To my surprise more than 500 people showed up at this concert in which I performed Frédéric Chopin’s Four Ballades in the dark after midnight. 

What inspired you to write the autobiography, The Wandering Pianist?

When I first started writing this book, many of my friends were baffled. They were asking me if I had enough words to fill a book and if I was too young to be writing an autobiography. To be honest, I wasn’t sure of myself either. I wrote most of this book between airports, on flights to different concerts. Many of the chapters are based on real life scenarios, or flashbacks that came to me while traveling. I never knew how hard it was to finish writing a book — I was adding chapters days before the publishing date.

I was invited to a dinner two years ago in Paris at the Hood (The only Singaporean Restaurant in Paris) and was introduced to Sharon Au and Anthony Chen. In this restaurant there was a piano, I played a few national day songs and we chatted until late hours of night. I was convinced that evening, by my childhood television hero and Singapore’s most decorated film maker, that I was going to put my story to paper. 

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Image courtesy of CongYu Wang

What are the strengths that make you a great musician?

I believe that I am driven to do the things I do today, because of what I had gone through in Paris. Compassion for people I believe.

How important is it for you to be a Steinway Artist?

It is by far the best thing that has happened to me since I started learning the piano. The dream Instrument. The dream Sound. The wonderful people within Steinway who’ve helped me get to where I am today. My Steinway Family, what more can I say?

What accomplishments do you see yourself achieving in the next five to 10 years?

Honestly 10 years is a long time. I would like to see a whole new generation of music lovers coming up. In that time I would have performed on all six continents, 10 times and I would have started my new piano school in Shanghai!

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Image courtesy of CongYu Wang

Aside from your special relationship with France, do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?

I love cooking and I love visiting new places — especially restaurants.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring musicians?

At every point in my career, I have heard people saying “look at this guy, look at that guy” or “this new generation is so…., the next generation is going to be so….., but no one can define the future. My advice is to do what you love, do not look left or right, and do not listen to advice that you do not wish to hear, do it now.

For more on CongYu Wang, head to his social media platforms and his official website:

Website: www.pianoislandfestival.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pianoislandfestival
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wang_congyu/?hl=en

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