February 19, 2021 · 3 minutes reading time

Yang Yang Cai: ‘To me, giving concerts is the best thing there is’

· text Liesbeth Houtman (translation: Eileen Stevens) , photo Marco Borggreve

The Young Musician Week will place some talented musicians in the spotlight, and pianist Yang Yang Cai (1998) is one of them. For her Concertgebouw Session, she selected Chopin’s Barcarolle in F sharp major, op. 60. ‘I would like to convince people that classical music is the most beautiful thing there is.’

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‘That was amazing,’ says Yang Yang Cai as she flops down in the performers’ lounge after the recording session. ‘The Barcarolle is one of the most beautiful works Chopin ever wrote. There’s so much refinement and nuance in it. Having a chance to record that piece in the Choir Hall was amazing.’ She recorded two takes and resolutely opted for the first. ‘It felt like it came straight from my heart.’

Straight from the heart is also the way Yang Yang talks. She searches at times for the right word, intuitively, and uses no unnecessary frills. She says that it’s great that young musicians are offered an online platform during Young Musician Week. Furthermore, she sees new opportunities through the spreading of these concerts on social media. ‘It's a great way of reaching a broader audience.’ And that dovetails perfectly with her mission. ‘I want to convince people that classical music is the most beautiful thing there is.’

‘I want to convince people that classical music is the most beautiful thing there is’

Following the recording session, Yang Yang has exchanged her glamorous green concert gown – ‘something I picked up in a Turkish boutique here in Amsterdam’ – for a sporty pullover and jeans. The last time she took an evening gown out of her closet was two months ago. ‘That was for a video for the sponsors of The Concertgebouw.’ And as happy as she is with all these online opportunities, she can’t wait to perform for a live audience again. ‘To me, giving concerts is the best thing there is. It doesn’t feel natural playing for an empty concert hall.’

‘Concerts these days are constantly being rescheduled. But at the same time, you always have to stay prepared, and that can be pretty annoying. There isn’t much you can count on; you have to create it all yourself.’ In fact, she should now be living in Italy, pursuing her master’s degree with Enrico Pace at the renowned piano academy in Imola. Corona made that impossible, however. ‘Now I have lessons on Zoom.’ Her daily routine consists of hours of practice. ‘I spend every morning and afternoon at the piano. During breaks, I usually go outdoors. I live in a flat on the fourth floor. There, I have an electric piano. And, there’s a place in Amsterdam where I can practice on a grand piano.’

‘I spend every morning and afternoon at the piano. During breaks, I usually go outdoors’

Yang Yang began playing the piano when she was five. In 2019, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, where she studied with Jan Wijn. She performs not only as a soloist, but also with violinist Shin Sihan and cellist Alexander Warenberg. When the pianist describes a recital that the trio presented in March 2019 in the Recital Hall, she glows with enthusiasm. ‘They are such fantastic musicians. Playing with them is a fabulous experience each and every time.’

Yang Yang has created quite a buzz at competitions. She won the YPF Piano Competition in 2019 and has twice won the Steinway Piano Competition: in 2008 and 2012. ‘The first time, I was asked to play in the Recital Hall. I was nine and thought: gee, it’s so beautiful here. From that moment on, my ultimate dream has been to become a concert pianist. To be able to perform in all the major concert halls and share music with others.’

‘It’s my ultimate dream to become a concert pianist’

Yang Yang rattles off a list of international concert halls where she hopes to play one day, ranging from the Philharmonie de Paris to Carnegie Hall in New York. Ambitious plans for the future, but first, the Dutch concert halls have to open their doors again. And who can say when that will be? In the meantime, Yang Yang is busy preparing for the recital she will present on 10 June in the Recital Hall, as part of the Young Dutch Stars series. ‘In addition to Beethoven and Ravel, I will play Scriabi’'s Preludes, op. 11. A beautiful piece I chose as a tribute to Mr Wijn. He taught me so much over the years.’ For that reason alone, she fervently hopes that this concert will go ahead.

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