Last Saturday, it was a great pleasure for the Chopin Academy of Music to host Portland State University professor of piano, Dr. Susan Chan. Seven of our students had the privilege of performing for her.
Before we go further, we should explain what a masterclass is—a masterclass is a publicly taught lesson, during which not only the participant is benefitting from the class but also the audience, in a passive manner. It is a great opportunity for listeners to learn a lot about new repertoire and various technical approaches. Every teacher has his or her own vocabulary, and own way of explaining. What we really learned about Dr. Chan was that she was pleasantly devoid of “old school” idioms—you know, sarcasm, unpleasantness, and other ways to express that I am great, and you are not, and here’s why. (Quite common aspects among some various “old school” personalities that lots of pianists tolerate in order to proliferate their bios and resumes with such names.) We noted that there was nothing show-off-y about her social manner.
Dr. Chan, in a very natural, elegant and sensitive way, approached each student with kindness, focusing on a few carefully chosen issues in every performance. We truly applaud her attention to the natural flow of romantic phrasing, and on freeing the mind in order to free the body. Often, masterclasses are taught in a way that only make people talk about the teacher—because the teacher itself is so full of himself or herself and absorbed by his or her own “greatness”. It was certainly refreshing to observe a masterclass where the ego of the coach was not the subject of the class, but only music, the substance of the students’ issues and their possible solutions.
If you came to the concert of Dr. Chan on the afternoon of Sunday, December 12, you would see that she truly performs the way she preaches. Again, her performance was not about “me” or “my greatness” but rather abundant with beautiful sound, freedom, elegant and natural phrasing. How often do we see performers who are at such ease during a live performance? The beautiful and noble sound came easily, she taught us, when the idea of “self” disappeared and all the attention of the performer was directed towards freeing the music while honoring all the intentions of the composers that were included in the score. The sound of the piano was never pushed and never reached a harsh quality.
It was interesting to hear a mixture of some favorites, including some well-loved transcriptions of Bach next to Chopin’s 24 Preludes. The second part presented less known music of Asian composers, which Chan champions and is included on her two recent recordings, “East West Encounter I” and “East West Encounter II”, both of which can be found on her website, here. In her lively and introspective performance of Alexina Louie, Somei Satoh, and Tan Dun, Chan created a near meditative state among all the listeners. Her impeccable inner sense of rhythm and tremendous palette of colors made it a true musical journey for all of us.
It was a busy weekend also because of the student recital on Saturday afternoon, yet so inspiring and fulfilling. Much more to come in 2011…