Guest pianist performs unique takes on Chopin compositions

Guest artist and world- renowned pianist Alec Chien performed a concert in Doty Recital Hall on Sept. 26 pay- ing homage to the classical works of the Romantic-era composer Frederic Chopin. Chien is an artist-in-residence and professor and chair of the music department at Al- legheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. On the program were all four of Chopin’s “Ballades,” a series of one-movement piano pieces. As an encore, Chien played Chopin’s “Etude Op. 25, No. 1” and “Nocturne Op. 27, No. 2.”

For pianists, playing Chopin’s music can be a very challenging feat because it is highly open to interpreta- tion by the performer. “If I had played his music straight, it would have been boring,” Chien said to the audience af- ter the concert.

Chopin, who is often re- ferred to as “the poet of the piano,” never wrote music based on a story; he believed that his music itself would tell a story. Chien created his own unique interpretations of Chopin’s complex compositions, which he demonstrated to the audience.

The tricks he used to in- troduce each phrase—such as his musical gesture, break, hesitation and change in tem- po—kept entertaining and sur- prising listeners throughout the concert.

The pieces Chien played were all technically demand- ing. It is not uncommon for pianists to spend hundreds or even thousands of hours just to learn one ballade thoroughly.

This seems to come al- most naturally to Chien, who has also accompanied and per- formed with orchestras as a soloist in both solo and cham- ber recitals in various parts of the world including Australia, Austria, China, Taiwan and Spain.

Additionally, he has been a featured soloist with some of the most respected symphony orchestras in the United States, such as the Philadelphia Or- chestra, St. Louis Symphony and Buffalo Philharmonic.

Chien played all four of Chopin’s ballades in distinc- tive ways. His interpretation of each ballad was exceed- ingly emotional. Chien gave a moving performance during “Ballade No. 1,” introducing this lyrical phrase slowly and carefully. On the other hand, for “Ballade No. 3,” the pia- nist scarcely breathed between the phrases, playing through the whole lyrical section vig- orously. The piano Chien per- formed on was the college’s newest Steinway piano, which was premiered when the recital hall was first opened.

Chien's performance was so powerful that it was hard to believe that he apparently has relatively small hands for a pianist. “Even people with small hands can play Chopin,” professor of music Jonathan Gondor said.