When in Rome …
Gwhyneth Chen is enthusiastically relating her past few days in Calgary, which included going full Cowtown — hat, boots, buckle, jeans and western shirt.
“I bought a full cowgirl outfit!” the pianist says with a beaming smile.
She’s still wearing the belt, which the Taiwanese superstar is more than proud to point out while sitting in the Arts Commons cafe prior to to an afternoon rehearsal with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
Sadly, no, Chen doesn’t plan on wearing it for the “very special event” she’s in town for, but she does show off the photos from a pro shoot she did with Victor Wong, and looks every bit the part of an honorary pardner.
As for that event, it really is special one and one that she’s spent some of her time in the city appreciating just how important it is.
The artist and members of the CPO, with whom she performed a concert a dozen years ago, will be teaming up for a performance called the Concert for Kindness at the Beltline’s beautiful Grace Presbyterian Church. The Wednesday, Oct. 18 event is a fundraiser with all of the time donated and all of the concert proceeds going to support the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre.
“Everyone is offering their services,” says Chen, who was given a tour of the facility and shown all of the amazing work they do. “It’s really wonderful.”
The artist’s contribution to the evening will be a performance of Chopin’s Concerto No. 2, in part because of the smaller orchestra — about 65 members will accompany her — but mainly because of how inspiring and fitting the piece is for the event.
“I love this piece,” she says. “I think for this occasion and for the church, this piece is perfect because it’s just so beautiful and spiritual and divine and heavenly.”
And undoubtedly, Chen will do it justice, make it that much more divine. She is a world-class musician, whose talents have been in great demand for most of the time she’s been seated in front of her instrument of choice, turning heads wherever she goes, touring, recording.
The Taipei-born artist and her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1980, with Chen attending Juilliard and later going on to win a number of competitions and awards, including, at the age of 23, the Ivo Pogorelich International Piano Competition, which came with a $100,000 prize.
The orchestras she’s played with over the years and around the world include such notables as the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Moscow State Philharmonic and the Zagreb Philharmonic and she has performed on such hallowed stages as the Kennedy Center, the Los Angeles Music Center, the National Concert Hall in Taiwan, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, and Debussy Hall in Cannes.
These days, however, Chen admits she’s spending less time touring and performing, with only an average of 20 concerts penned into her calendar each year.
“I used to only play concerts. And I would play 30 to 40 concerts a year, but now I give a lot of master classes and I do recordings more and I do endorsements,” she says, noting that she works in an official capacity with Steinway and a sports clothing line back in Taiwan, doing photo shoots and making personal appearances.
“That’s more fun,” Chen says and laughs. “You only have to look good. You don’t have to play well … There’s a little bit of acting involved and it’s fun.”
And, she says, there’s less travel involved, with most of her time being spent between her homes in Los Angeles and Taipei, where she is still something of a huge deal.
In fact, she has the official title of “pride of Taiwan” and has performed during some of her nation’s biggest moments.
“I’ve played for three presidents in Taiwan and I also represented Taiwan at the 2008 (Summer) Olympics in Beijing,” she says.
Oh, and there’s also the fact that there’s an illustrated children’s book about her life and her journey titled Music Fills the Universe — a colourful book that she proudly presents to her interviewer.
So. Yes. A pretty huge deal.
Chen smiles again.
“Well, I can’t say that about myself.”
She doesn’t have to.
(Photo courtesy Victor Wong.)
Gwhyneth Chen performs with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra at the Concert For Kindness Wednesday, Oct. 18 at the Grace Presbyterian Church (1009 15th Ave. S.W.). Tickets are available from here with all concert proceeds going to support homeless Calgarians at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre.