Interview with Pianist Zhu Wang

Zhu Wang started playing piano at age five when his grandfather recognized his early talent. Since then Zhu has gone on to study with some of the world’s best piano teachers, perform award-winning concerts around the U.S., and make his Carnegie Hall debut, all before the age of 27.

Pianist Zhu Wang sitting with a piano in a recording studio

In this episode of the Open Notes Podcast, Zhu shares the most impactful lessons he learned from his teachers, why you should listen to recordings and attend live music, and the amazing story of his first time performing Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto.

Zhu Wang joins the FCS for a live and live-streamed performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on Saturday, May 11, 2024 at 7:30 p.m. Mountain Time. Learn more and find tickets at FCSymphony.org.


Audio Interview:

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Video Interview:


Abridged Transcript:

Jeremy Cuebas: Thank you for being here, Zhu. Would you please introduce yourself to our audience?

Zhu Wang: Of course. I am 27 years old and I was originally born in China. Now I am living in New York City pursuing my Master’s Degree at the Juilliard School with Mr. Emanuel Ax and Mr. Robert McDonald. I feel very fortunate to be studying music and feel inspired every day by my teachers.

JC: How did you start playing? What were your early musical experiences?

ZW: I started playing when I was 5 years old. My grandfather was a high school music teacher and he was very passionate about classical music. He wanted me to pursue piano as a hobby, so he let me play on the electric keyboard in his apartment. He thought that I might have some talent, so he convinced my parents to get me an upright piano at home. I fell in love with it immediately and never looked back.

Music for me is a tool to express myself. I found a connection with the piano and I can send a message and tell a story with music.

I was 12 years old when I found my first professional teacher in Hong Kong. I played in a competition and didn’t win, but one of the members of the jury was a teacher and he told my parents that he thought I was very talented. He said that I should pursue piano seriously with him at the Shanghai Conservatory.

I’m very grateful to my teachers and my family who helped me along the way to where I am now.

JC: What was the biggest thing that you learned from your teachers?

ZW: One of the biggest things I learned was how to make the piano sing and sound like a voice. Once you press a key on the piano, the sound decays. So it’s difficult to sustain and shape a whole melody and make it sing. That concept was eye-opening for me.

And when I study with my teachers now, I realize that I have so much to learn about how to be a generous and kind person. I am learning more than how to play piano. I am learning how to offer the best of myself to contribute to society and be more meaningful. What we do is important, and it is especially clear when I am able to play where some people don’t have access to classical music.

JC: Is it important to go see music live, or should we listen to recordings?

ZW: They are both important. There is nothing more personal than listening to recordings of Rachmaninoff playing his own music. I find it so inspiring to hear the nuances of his timings and his performance. There is nothing like it. I wish that I was there in the hall when he did the recordings..

On the other side, it is so important to hear live concerts because there’s something that’s just not replaceable. I remember when I heard the Schubert Cello Quintet in C Major at a summer festival. When they started playing the slow movement, I don’t know what happened, but there were tears in my eyes. The music was heavenly and beautiful and full of longing. You can hear him seeing the end of his life and writing the message he wanted to deliver.

JC: Could you give our listeners an overview of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto?

ZW: Sure. Before he wrote this piece, Rachmaninoff wasn’t happy with his composition career. He was successful as a pianist, but not yet as a composer. His first symphony was not successful. It was criticized for being too long and too indulgent.

But this concerto was a huge success. Somehow it just became the most popular piece of music in the history of classical music. It has been featured in movies and in all sorts of references outside of the classical music world.

I absolutely love the slow movement. There is nothing that is more intimate and more emotionally powerful than the slow movement.

But of course the music has lots of drama also. And that’s the balance that he brings to it.

JC: Do you have any stories about your history with this piece?

ZW: Something that is very personal to me is that I played this piece for the first time at my graduation recital at Curtis and then I proposed to my wife after the concert. She was accompanying me on the piano.

For anybody who is interested in seeing that moment, I think it is still on YouTube.

JC: Were you more nervous about the recital or the proposal?

ZW: I think both. It was the first time I was performing this piece, and of course the proposal.

JC: Thank you for joining us today. We are so excited to perform the Piano Concert No. 2 with you on May 11, 2024, live and live-streamed from Fort Collins, Colorado.

ZW: Thank you for having me! See you very soon.


Zhu’s Proposal: