Chiu is a stunningly virtuosic pianist with a dynamic range that almost defies the capabilities of modern recording techniques...
– BBC Music Magazine
With a vibrant concert schedule, a legacy of 28 CDs, and a stream of superlatives from major critics around the globe, pianist Frederic Chiu occupies a special place in the world of classical music. In an eclectic career encompassing unusual collaborations and little-played repertoire, along with explorations into the psychology of performance, Mr. Chiu has demonstrated an ability to go beyond boundaries and to bring listeners with him.
The accolades tell part of the story. Reviewers have called his recorded performances “playing on an exalted level” (Fanfare), and “stunningly virtuosic… [with a] sense of spontaneity [that] is often incandescent” (BBC Music Magazine). The New Yorker included his version of Liszt’s Années de Pélérinage, Italie among their “Best Classical Albums of 2001.” His Mendelssohn Sonatas—selected as “Record of the Year” by Stereo Review—became a best-seller in the classical piano category.
Live performances continue to play a major role in his life. Mr. Chiu has toured Europe and the U.S. with the Orchestre de Bretagne and Stefan Sanderling. He has played with the Hartford Symphony, Dayton Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, BBC Concert Orchestra, Estonia National Symphony, China National Symphony, the FOSJE Orquesta in Ecuador, among others. In recital he performs in the world's most prestigious halls including the Berlin Philharmonic, Kioi and Suntory Halls in Tokyo, Lincoln Center in New York and Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Mr. Chiu's musical partners include Joshua Bell, Pierre Amoyal, Elmar Oliveira, Gary Hoffman, David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz and the St. Lawrence, Shanghai and Daedalus string quartets. He has worked with many composers, including George Crumb, Frederick Rzewsky, Bright Sheng, Gao Ping and David Benoit.
But recordings have always represented a strikingly unique aspect of his life’s work. His most recent discs include Distant Voices (Debussy and Gao Ping), Liszt’s arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony V, Saint-Saën’s Carnival of the Animals (with storyteller David Gonzalez), and Hymns and Dervishes—music by Gurdjieff and de Hartmann. The latter demonstrates the pianist’s ongoing adventurousness.
Frederic Chiu’s early career followed traditional avenues. His awards and competition wins included the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, Juilliard’s Petschek Award, and wins at contests run by the Music Teachers National Association and the Beethoven Foundation (now the American Pianists Association). He was a “non-winner” of the 1993 Van Cliburn Competition, where his elimination from the finals caused an uproar in the press due to his immense popularity with competition audiences and critics.
“They were very supportive afterward,” recalls Mr. Chiu. “They had me back in Ft. Worth every year for eight or ten years, playing, going to schools, doing outreach. I was very happy doing that.”
Being out of the traditional competition circuit gave him the freedom to explore music that was not “the core repertoire” for those contests. That included transcriptions—his first foray into recording—and the music of Prokofiev, for which he has been acclaimed.
Another area of interest involves the intricacies of the performing experience. “In my Deeper Performance Studies workshops,” he says, “I deal with the balance between body, mind and heart. I’ve done a lot of thinking and analysis from a pianist’s perspective, especially using ‘affect theory,’ as developed by Dr. Silvan Tomkins.
Frederic is a full-time Professor of Piano at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as an Adjunct Professor at the Hartt School of Music. He is highly sought after for his masterclasses, that offer rare insight into Prokofiev, Debussy, New Pedal Techniques, Interpretation Guidelines as well as basic repertoire.
Frederic Chiu has been a Yamaha Artist since 1988 when he began practicing on pianos in the company’s Paris studios during his years living in France. “I was one of the first people to buy a GranTouch,” he reveals. “I saw a prototype made for Sviatoslav Richter, who needed a practice piano for traveling. I practiced exclusively on one for years, using it as a silent keyboard, for low-volume practicing—which pushes your muscles—and employing headphones to develop right brain/left brain coordination. Over the years, I also participated in the development of the CFX, an amazing instrument, and the Disklavier.”
Not coincidentally, this long-term Yamaha Artist also helped the instrument establish its brand as one the world’s great piano makers by providing important feedback to technicians as they developed the newest models. One of the fruits of that association is the forthcoming Yamaha recording, Frederic Chiu: Distant Voices, which includes piano music of Claude Debussy and Gao Ping. Technological advances have been stunning, he says. “In just three days we were able to produce an audio product, a video shoot, and a DisklavierTV documentary,” he says with amazement.
Frederic Chiu has written extensively about his recorded and performing repertoire in his Program Notes. Additionally, he has been published in Clavier Companion and Piano Technicians Guild Journal. On other topics explore Frederic's blog posts HERE.
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What is next on the horizon? No doubt there will be ongoing collaborations, as he has done with Shakespearean actor Brian Bedford, hip-hop artist Socalled, and psychologist/writer/clown Howard Buten. And provocative audience-participation projects, like his ongoing series, Classical Smackdown and a revolutionary ballet production of Romeo & Juliet. As always, Mr. Chiu will also find time for writing, painting and cooking, and leading activities at Beechwood Arts, an arts immersion non-profit he co-founded with his wife, Jeanine Esposito, in Connecticut, his current home.