NOVEMBER'S YOUNG ARTIST: Tony Yike Yang
16 year-old Canadian pianist Tony Yike Yang is no stranger to music
competitions, winning 1st place in the Cooper Internatiional Piano
Competition, 2nd place in the Gina Bachhauer International Piano
Competition, and 3rd place in the Hilton Head International Piano
Competition. Just last month, Tony Yike Yang became the youngest
prizewinner in the history of the Frédéric Chopin International Piano
Competition, achieving 5th prize. We were delighted to interview
Tony about his life as as musician, and his recent successes:
NC: When did you begin playing the piano?
TYY: I started becoming involved with music when I was 5 years old. My mom is a piano teacher, so she inspired me to begin learning the piano.
NC: Do you play any other musical instruments, or enjoy other arts?
TYY: At my academic high school (Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts), I play the violin. We are surrounded by all forms of art (dance, drama, music, and visual arts) on a daily basis, and I very much appreciate this kind of artistic atmosphere.
NC: Who have inspired you, and played a key role in your artistic development?
TYY: My parents and my professors. Their dedication and tremendous support for me largely motivates me to work hard to achieve my goals and do the best I can.
NC: As a student, do you find it challenging to balance your piano practice with high school academics?
TYY: I try to balance them according to what's more important at the moment. If I have a piano competition coming up, I would prioritize piano practice. Likewise, if I have exams coming up, I would be prioritizing school academics. But it gets very difficult when I have both of those coming up at the same time. Then, I don't even know what to do!
NC: You placed 5th last month in the 17th Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland. You are also the youngest prizewinner in the competition's history. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
TYY: It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Probably the most intense month of my life, but I must say it was honor to take part in this prestigious competition, and I truly enjoyed the great experience. It was far beyond my expectation to have gone so far in the competition this time since I'm not even a full-time music student yet, but for me, the process of the competition is what I treasure the most.
NC: After preparing so many Chopin piano compositions for performance in the Chopin Competition, has Frédéric Chopin become a favorite composer of yours now if he wasn't already?
TYY: The music of Fryderyk Chopin is in a league of its own. He is definitely my favorite composer right now.
NC: Is there a particular Chopin composition or genre that you enjoy the most?
TYY: I particularly like his ballades because they portray so many colors and emotions - it's like a lifetime story portrayed in just roughly 10 minutes of piano music!
NC: While in Poland last month, did you have a chance to visit Chopin's birthplace in Zelazowa Wola?
TYY: I didn't get to visit Zelazowa Wola this time, but I did in April when I came to Warsaw for the preliminary auditions of the Chopin Competition. At that time, Chopin's house was under renovation so I did not get to go inside it. But visiting his garden was truly something special. The atmosphere is so unique... it feels as if Chopin is still alive!
NC: Did you learn anything of particular importance after preparing such a wide range of Chopin compositions for this competition?
TYY: I definitely learned a lot more about Chopin while preparing such a wide range of his compositions. After having prepared works written by Chopin in his youth up until his early death, it was very interesting for me to observe how his music (which reflects his personal life and personality) and his writing style progressed throughout his lifetime.
NC: You have already performed in a wide range of countries and places at such a young age! Is there a particular city or venue where do you enjoy performing the most?
TYY: I'm not sure if I have a favorite place to perform, but I certainly enjoyed playing in the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall during the Chopin Competition. Especially when I got the chance to play with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra on that stage, it was like a dream come true.
NC: What has been your life's most memorable performance experience?
TYY: I performed the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in B flat minor, Op. 23 with the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall last summer (2014), and up until now, that performance has been one of my life's biggest highlights. It was truly an incredible experience, and it inspired my musical growth in so many ways.
NC: In addition to an very exciting musical life, what additional interests do you hold?
TYY: Besides music, I enjoy swimming and playing badminton. I like to watch soccer, as well as movies, and I enjoy reading about world news and scientific/technological discoveries. I am also a fan of video games. There are many interesting things in our world, some of which I have yet to discover!
Watch Tony Yang's performance of the Chopin Barcarolle Op. 60 in the 2015 Chopin International Piano Competition: