In perfect harmony

Education | Trista Yeung 22 Nov 2016

Five months after her summer holiday, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts student Peggy Wu Hiu-nam still recalls every detail of when she took part in three international music festivals to hone her skills.

The piano major student says she didn't plan such an intensive schedule although she wanted to gain as much performing experience as possible before graduation.

"I sent out applications to look for opportunities and luckily all of them got a response," she said. "Students rarely have the opportunity to perform in front of a large crowd in Hong Kong. It meant a lot for me to step on an international stage and learn from some of the most renowned pianists in the world."

Wu stood out from hundred of applicants around the world and became one of 24 candidates in the Young Artist Program at the PianoTexas International Academy & Festival, which was founded in 1981 to offer college piano students up to age 28 to experience the art of performing in a professional environment.

After going through a stringent screening procedure, Wu was invited on a full tuition scholarship to its Fort Worth campus. The three-week piano festival provided her with opportunities to take part in concerts and solo recitals accompanied by a professional orchestra.

Wu said the experience of master classes and private lessons with accomplished pianists such as Barry Douglas, Yoheved Kaplinsky, Joaquin Achucarro and Tamas Ungar opened her eyes.

As the 2016 PianoTexas is the year of Brahms and Schumann, she was required to play Robert Schumann's Fantasiestucke, Op12, to start the master classes.

"Master classes welcomed public participation, so it was like having a small concert," said Wu, 20. "It was stressful but it was fun also. I was inspired by instructor Barry Douglas, who shared how he interpreted music in different perspectives. Sometimes we place too much focus on developing musical skills. We neglect the importance of emotional expression. He told me the significance of striking a balance, which reminds me to always search for my inner emotion before performing."

Giving community concerts in museums, churches or elderly homes was also an unforgettable experience. "The atmosphere was very encouraging. You could feel that they enjoyed the music. An old lady came to talk to me after the performance and thanked me for brightening up her day. I liked the idea of interacting with the audience as you know how they feel about your music."

She joined Bowdoin International Music Festival afterwards, taking part in a three-week study of chamber music and instrumentals with over 250 students in Brunswick, Maine. The nearly 100 events, from concerts to student performances, talks and interactions, made world-class music accessible to local audiences.

Apart from having private lessons with Korean pianist Yong Hi Moon, Wu was challenged when she had to pair up with different instruments - for instance, violin and cello - and performed a piano quartet at the end of the festival. "I was motivated by my fellow young musicians as they really wanted to give their best performances. It was a new piece for us and we had to learn from zero. We practiced it every day to tune our sound in harmony. It was really satisfying when we nailed the performance in such a short time," she said.

At the end of her summer music journey, Wu headed to Europe and the International Holland Music Sessions for lessons with piano master Boris Berman. She said the awareness of going professional was boosted after encountering so many top musicians. "No matter if you are a student or not, it is important to have a correct attitude in every large or small performance. You never know when opportunities are around, so you have to be ready all the time," the final-year student said.

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