Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Taking the lead: redefining the works of Schubert without going completely off key

Ahead of her Abu Dhabi Classics show, pianist Ran Jia talks about transforming the composer’s pieces and why they’re so moving

Chinese pianist Ran Jia is classical music star on the rise. Peter Rigaud
Chinese pianist Ran Jia is classical music star on the rise. Peter Rigaud

Abu Dhabi Classics will finish its latest season with a nod to the future. Chinese star-on-the-rise Ran Jia, 28, will close the performance series this week.

Now living in Cologne, Germany, Jia is fast establishing herself as one to watch in the classical music industry, thanks to her soulful interpretations of works by Austrian composer Franz Schubert. She will be showcasing that talent through performances of ­Schubert’s Sonata in D Major D850 and Sonata in B Flat Major as part of her Abu Dhabi return.

Such is the anticipation surrounding her recital that the venue has changed from the intimate Manarat Al Saadiyat to the larger confines of the Abu Dhabi Theatre. Speaking to The National before flying into the capital, Jia says she is glad to be finding success on her own terms. She views her role as performer as more than simply pleasing the audience. Instead, she wants to elicit an emotional reaction from her concerts.

“It is about me leading the audience and not the other way around,” she says. “While they go to a concert because they want to hear something, a serious artist needs to make them feel something about music. I view this as my duty on stage.”

Chinese pianist Ran Jia is classcial music star on the rise. Picture supplied by Abu Dhabi Festival
Ran Jia is performing in Abu Dhabi on April 19. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival

As well as being a regular performer to more seasoned audiences in Europe, you also made a point of performing in emerging classical music scenes, such as in your native China, as well as in South Korea and the Gulf. Do you approach these shows differently?

Not really, because my goal is always to share the music with the audience. For example, last month I did a complete Schubert sonata in Shanghai. Schubert’s work is incredibly deep and they [the Chinese audience] are absolutely not about virtuosity. It could be a very difficult challenge for the audience, especially in China. But this is what I love doing in performance. I want to expose new works to the audience and give people something other than just virtuosity playing. I want to move my audience emotionally.

You are viewed as master interpreter of Schubert and you will be playing a few pieces in your Abu Dhabi concert. What is it about Schubert that moves you?

One point of his music that really catches me is that basically, in music, normally, a major key denotes a bright feeling and the minor is a little bit darker and sadder. But in Schubert’s music, I found that actually, he used this harmony change that makes the major keys sadder than the minor. It all results in giving you this deep feeling. The music feels almost like a dream.

You began playing the piano at the age of three and never looked back. Did you have any choice in the matter?

That’s the interesting one. My parents only wanted me to play the piano because they thought it was nice for a kid to know some instruments and music. But when I was nine, I remember I went to a competition for young kids and I won second prize. I was absolutely very excited about that. Then I told my parents that I wanted to go professional. They were a little bit shocked that I knew exactly what I wanted to do at that age.

What are the qualities needed as a performer to deliver a successful interpretation of a classical work?

I think it really depends. I find that music has no end. For example, this Schubert sonata I always play, the way I perform it changes all the time. I am telling the story in a different way. Playing music isn’t just about improving, but to also go deeper.

Your performance tomorrow will be your second recital in Abu Dhabi. Do you have any recollection of your 2015 concert?

Of course, I had an amazing time. The country is just so beautiful. The concert was great and the audience was lovely. That is why I’m super-excited about coming back. Also, the last time I came I made some friends and they are waiting for me to return.

Ran Jia performs Friday, April 19 at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, Breakwater, Corniche. Tickets from Dh50 from www.ticketmaster.ae

Updated: April 17, 2019 05:32 PM

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