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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pianist Claire Huangci’s love for Chopin on display at ‘Classics 9’

Claire Huangci will perform Chopin this weekend with the Spokane Symphony. (MAIKE HELBIG / Photo courtesy of Maike Helbig)
Claire Huangci will perform Chopin this weekend with the Spokane Symphony. (MAIKE HELBIG / Photo courtesy of Maike Helbig)

Before pianist Claire Huangci gave a private concert for Bill Clinton at the age of 10, before she studied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as a teen, before she performed with countless orchestras around the world and before she released two critically acclaimed albums, with another set for release later this year, she was like most children practicing the piano.

“I’d always say ‘Gosh, I just want to go play. I just want to do something else,’ ” she said.

Although she wouldn’t admit it to herself then, the piano was an important part of Huangci’s life. However reluctant she was to practice, Huangci would plead with her parents to reconsider when they threatened to sell the family piano if she was being naughty.

It wasn’t until she was studying at Curtis, surrounded by students who had known since childhood that they wanted to pursue music, that Huangci realized she couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.

This realization led Huangci to move to Hanover, Germany to study at the University of Music, Drama and Media Hanover, where she now teaches.

“I’ve been happy, and I haven’t looked back,” Huangci said.

She’ll perform with the Spokane Symphony and conductor Eckart Preu as part of its “Classics 9: In the Shadow of Beethoven” Saturday and Sunday.

“Classics 9” will open with American composer John Corigliano’s “Elegy” and close with German composer Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.

In between, Huangci will perform Polish composer Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

“Chopin has always been the composer that has accompanied me the most throughout my life,” Huangci said. “I think it’s safe to say he’s the pianist’s composer. There’s no pianist I can imagine that would not put Chopin as one of their first loves.”

Known for performing Chopin’s “bigger” pieces, his sonatas, preludes and ballades, Huangci decided to pay tribute to the composer on her upcoming album in a way fans might not have expected, putting those bigger pieces aside for his Nocturnes, which mean more to her personally.

“A Chopin Diary: The Complete Nocturnes” will be released overseas in May and stateside this summer, although Huangci will have copies available at “Classics 9.”

Huangci’s first exposure to Chopin’s Nocturnes came from an assignment when she was younger.

Enamored with the piece’s beauty and because it was not the most technically difficult piece to play, Huangci asked her teacher for more but was told the pieces required maturity she lacked at such a young age.

Undeterred, Huangci reviewed the Nocturnes, which she sees as dramatic pieces that encompass the spectrum of human emotion, when she found the time.

“When no one was around, I would sometimes read through them and be like ‘Wow, I’m really enjoying what I’m doing,’ ” she said. “Honestly that’s one of my earliest recollections of really playing for myself rather than playing for a lesson or an exam.

“I’ve lived these pieces so much… There are so many memories. I can remember things that are happening to me so from many years ago.”

Though she focused on his Nocturnes for her album, Huangci is just as taken with Piano Concerto No. 1.

Huangci notes that the concerto has a much more maestoso, or majestic, and noble feel than his other work, mostly likely a sign of Beethoven’s influence on the composer, though it’s not without the emotion that Huangci said makes every Chopin piece feel like the composer wrote it specifically for the listener.

“This concerto, it’s sparkling, it’s boiling and bubble all the time with different feelings,” she said. “I think it’s the perfect epitome of Chopin.”

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