Pianist Gwhyneth Chen Offers Lessons to 'Give Taiwanese Pianists An Opportunity'

Pianist Gwhyneth Chen Offers Lessons to 'Give Taiwanese Pianists An Opportunity'
Photo Credit: Nayu Kim @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

What you need to know

'The funding problems faced by the competition raise a very real and serious question of whether classical music can survive in Taiwan in such a starved environment.'

Internationally renowned Taiwanese-American pianist Gwhyneth Chen (陳毓襄) is offering master classes daily throughout this month to save a prestigious piano competition in Taiwan.

The 13th Taipei Youth Chopin Competition concluded in July, but is facing a funding shortage of NT$500,000 (US$16,000). Chen, a jury member at the competition, says the funding problems “raise a very real and serious question of whether classical music can survive in Taiwan in such a starved environment.”

At a press conference at the The Frederic Chopin Foundation of Taipei on Aug. 3, former American Institute in Taiwan director William A. Stanton, who decided to support Chen's fundraising effort, argued that the problem was much greater.

“I think this [funding] is a broader problem in Taiwan for the arts, for music, for education. It’s a constant struggle, I know,” he said. “There’s a great need in Taiwan to support the arts.”

The Frederic Chopin Foundation of Taipei has been holding the Taipei Youth Chopin Piano Competition irregularly since 1986. The contests are sometimes held nationwide, and global-wide in other years.

“I'm worried that this year’s Chopin Piano Competition will be the last one because the foundation often lacks funding,” says Chen.

The foundation originally estimated a total of 70 to 80 contestants this year, but around 140 pianists have applied. The sudden surge in contestants increased the costs of holding the contest to NT$1.7 million, and with less sponsors this year, the foundation was unable to fully cover all the expenses.

This is when Chen has volunteered to give master classes to raise funds for the competition.

“We need the Taipei Youth Chopin Piano Competition because Taiwan needs a representative in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland, held once every five years,” says Chen.

The pianist says her experience has taught her the importance of competitions and being on the international stage.

“Without on-stage experience, you can’t enter any international competition,” says Chen. “You can’t just keep practicing at home and say you’re going to Warsaw.”

Chen says there are many talented pianists in Taiwan, but they all lack an international stage and a more global music education.

“This needs to be supplemented in so many ways,” she says.

The musician points out that other Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea, hold large-scale international piano competitions, but Taiwan has yet to do so.

“[South] Korean pianists don’t have to study abroad to reach an international stage,” says Chen. “But Taiwan is seeing difficulties in merely getting into the preliminaries.”

Chen says she hopes the Taipei Youth Chopin Piano Competition will continue, and will be able to present a winner in 2018 to represent Taiwan in the 2020 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

“Taiwanese pianists need an opportunity,” says Chen. “They shouldn’t be cooped up in practice rooms without ever having a change to go on stage.”

Contact the Frederic Chopin Foundation of Taipei at (02) 8789-8525 for Gwhyneth Chen’s master classes or to donate.

(Gwhyneth Chen won the biggest cash prize in the history of piano competitions, US$100,000, as the youngest contestant at the Ivo Pogorelich International Piano Competition in 1993. As “the Pride of Taiwan,” she represented Taiwan in the opening concert of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and has won over 50 awards in piano competitions worldwide.)

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole