Keys to more success nearer for pianist

Local | Phoebe Ng 9 Jun 2017

Pianist Rachel Cheung Wai-ching has made it to the finals of the Cliburn International Piano Competition, the "Olympics of classical music," with the winner to be announced tomorrow.

Not only is she the first Hongkonger to have made it this far, Cheung is also the only woman among the six finalists announced in Fort Worth, Texas.

Ahead of her performance tonight, Cheung, 25, said there is no pressure as she is already very satisfied with what she has accomplished.

"Getting into the finals is a big bonus already, I will just enjoy the remaining performance," she told The Standard. "Win or not, the biggest takeaway is to see myself improving."

However, she admitted it is the toughest contest she has entered despite having won international competitions already.

"I haven't stopped practicing for a day since I came here on May 21," Cheung said. "It really trained up my stamina."

Cheung said it still felt quite "dreamy" to have made the finals even though she was pretty confident.

The winner receives US$50,000 (HK$389,000) and a three-year management contract.

Cheung will perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 4 in G Major, Op 58 today after playing Brahms's Piano Quintet in F Minor, op 34 yesterday in the two-day finals.

In the semifinal, she impressed the audience with a Mozart concerto and a 60-minute recital.

Reviewers said she gave "a powerful performance full of high drama and interesting details."

She is competing against two Russians, Yury Favorin and Georgy Tchaidze, two Americans, Kenneth Broberg and Daniel Hsu, and South Korean Yekwon Sunwoo.

A homegrown talent, Cheung has studied with Eleanor Wong Yee-lun at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts since 2001. She also spent two years at the Yale School of Music under Peter Frankl.

Wong joked that she would just wait for the online playback because she would get "too nervous" watching the live stream.

She also encouraged her student to "relax and enjoy it," but admitted she hopes Cheung's accomplishment in the Cliburn can give her a career lift.

"The audience base for classical music is too small for such a tiny city as Hong Kong," Wong said.

The Cliburn has been hailed as "a cross between the Miss America Pageant, the Olympic Games, the Academy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize" by the Boston Globe newspaper. It was named after American pianist Van Cliburn, who died in 2013.

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