Chinese pianist Ruoyu Huang, 24, explains why he doesn’t like to choose “favorite” composers.
“I love all the composers, because I think being a performer is like being an actor,” he tells us. “One has to be capable of acting any role, and acting it well. The purpose for us is to appreciate our role—that is the composer, and the universal each composer symbolizes.” (Huang’s father is a television and stage actor, by the way, and his mother a musician who plays traditional Chinese stringed instruments.)
But he does admit to an artistic and emotional connection with the composers of the European romantic tradition.
“My personality on piano is very intimate with the 19th-century romantic style—in other words, I am good at Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff.”
Part of the attraction, he says, is that all five of these great names were also rock-star “good pianists” of their day—and like them, Huang is both a performer and a composer. (There’s a link below to a video of Huang performing one of his own pieces.)
Born in Chengdu, China, a city of more than seven million and the capital of China’s Sichuan province, Huang remembers piano being part of a dutiful childhood: “I just followed what my parents said.” But his family has told him how much they loved to hear him play. “Just after I had my first lessons, I started to improvise on the piano in impressionistic style, in which I imitate water, fire, animals and so on—a good memory for them.”
He came to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In 2006 he began his studies at The Juilliard School, where he is now pursuing a master’s degree. He won first prize and the audience prize at 2005’s Oberlin International Piano Competition, first prize at the Young Artist International Concerto Competition in 2007, and fifth place at the China International Piano Competition in 2010. He has performed with several major Chinese symphony orchestras—and with the Fort Worth Symphony, too.
Beyond performing and composing, Huang has a passion to “preserve the old style” of pianists who came just after the 19th century romantic masters: pianists such as “Cortot, Rachmaninoff, Hoffmann, Friedman, Moiseiwitch, even Horowitz,” says Huang. And he explains this dream in an interesting way, by relating it to a favorite animated series called One Piece, which tells about a group of pirates trying to preserve a tradition, even through rebellion.
“I know people may think it childish, but the story is very touching,” he says. “The pirates work hard for their dream. I and my friends Lio Kuokwai and Andrew Tyson have listened to a lot of recordings from these pianists—but because the sound quality is so bad and they play some wrong notes, they have almost been forgotten. How sad this is, because this generation was the closest [we have] to what the composers of the 19th century wanted—they are a very good example of romanticism. So to preserve this style is the dream of my ‘brotherhood.’”
◊ Here is a video of Ruoyu Huang performing the Schumann Fantasie Op. 17 this year:
◊ And another of him playing a Rondo-Fantasie of his own composition in 2009:
Ruoyu Huang's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
HAYDN Sonata in E Major, Hob. XVI:31
CHOPIN Etude in E Minor, op. 25, no. 5
CHOPIN 24 Preludes, op. 28
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
SCHUMANN Fantasie in C Major, op. 17
DEBUSSY From Preludes, Book I
DEBUSSY Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest
SCHUMANN Davidsbündlertänze, op. 6
RAVEL La valse
DVOŘÁK Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, op. 18
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.