During my summers as a child, my family would visit Hawaii and one year my mother decided she wanted to visit China. We took the long-haul flight to China and before we arrived on the mainland, we stopped for two days in Taiwan. I still remember being fascinated by the busy street market and the very vibrant and fast-paced city life.
When I got to college, I actually got the chance to go back to Taiwan again for a music festival that I signed up for and it was being hosted by the main university in Taipei. Again, I had a similar experience where I was mesmerized by the bright energy that the city had and this time I felt it from the welcoming people that I met just outside of Taipei.
All of these experiences came to mind when I heard that I’d be interviewing an emerging concert musician, Dr. I-Lin Tsai to talk about her 2022 West Coast Concert Tour. I thought about how exciting it must be for someone like her to have piano take her from the island country of Taiwan to across the world.
We met over breakfast at a cafe just down the street from me – she was in town for one of her upcoming performances.
Bridge: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. What’s it like to have piano as your focus in life for the time being?
A: You’re welcome and I’m happy to be here – thanks for having me. Piano is really just that – my vehicle. I’ve always said piano is my best friend and since I’ve seen it that way and always made a point to invest in it, it’s given back so much to me.
Bridge: So you’re here in the SF Bay area to do a few performances. What’s been your experience so far – how do you feel about California and specifically the Bay Area?
A: Honestly, I’m not surprised. I’ve been here before when I was much younger, but it was only for a few days. Even then I didn’t see much of the area, but what I saw I did enjoy. The SF Bay seems to have a certain openness to how it views things – a spirit of creativity to it.
Bridge: Great. How has piano and specifically your approach to concerts been received here?
A: I obviously cannot speak for every audience member, but from what I’ve seen and heard, they seem to like it. I’m sharing a mostly contemporary program featuring Debussy, Bartok and Rachmaninov, but I’ve also added Kapustin and JJ Lin.
Bridge: JJ who?
A: [Laughing] Um. Yeah – JJ Lin. He’s my favorite Singaporean Singer and Songwriter. He’s a pop artist. I love him. Uh. He’s the best.
Bridge: I see. So what does a Singaporean Pop Musician have to do with classical music?
A: Well, technically nothing. But what I’ve done on the program is to take several songs and themes of his and build them into a piece for piano duet. It is built out into song form – strophic and then in a 3 movement pattern.
Bridge: Nice. So you’ve made his music more classical?
Bridge: You said Piano Duet. So who’s your partner?
A: For this piece and the Rachmaninov, I’m playing with Julian Toha.
Bridge: I see. So how have classical audiences reacted to your program that includes JJ?
A: Surprisingly, it’s the piece that I get the most feedback from. I’ve found that people love it for 2 main reasons. 1. They’ve never heard of JJ Lin or any C-pop and feel excited to have their musical palette expanded. [Smiling and slightly laughing] Especially to a great musician like JJ Lin. And 2. They love that in a classical music concert there is a piece of pop music that is being re-engineered by a classical pianist.
Bridge: I agree. I think this should happen more. So what’s next for you after this tour?
A: After this tour, I’m continuing with my teaching at Oclef, where I work as a Professor of Stage One Piano and focusing on my hobby of graphic design. I do expect to be back and will probably have more Chinese Pop music, whether by JJ or someone else.
After the interview I-Lin mentioned to me that she’s so excited about taking what she learned on her 2022 West Coast Concert Tour and putting it into a future effort. She has endless ideas and has such a bright personality. I can see why event planners are booking her regularly and audiences talk so highly of her. What I took away from this interview is that any discipline, if pursued with enough depth and the right attitude, can take you across the world or anywhere else you want to go. But you do need to have fresh ideas and a certain passion to carry you through that challenging journey.
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