Thursday 21st February

Q&A with pianist Tony Chen Lin

Originally published in Cityscape Magazine

The CSO’s celebrations of the reopening of the Christchurch Town Hall include the first concert of the 2019 Lamb & Hayward Masterworks Series. Pianists Michael Houstoun and Tony Chen Lin will perform Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos.Cityscape asked Lin about his journey from Christchurch music student to the Town Hall stage, and the responsibility of choosing the new Steinway piano for the auditorium.

You made your debut with the CSO [in 2018] – what were some memorable moments from that?

The whole experience was a very memorable one. I especially enjoyed working with Benjamin Northey, who is a wonderful musician and conductor. In addition to that, it is always a joy to play for a warm and appreciative home crowd with my family and friends sitting in it. But this amiable feeling wasn’t just in the audience; it was lovely to see so many familiar faces in the orchestra too, many of whom I went to school and university with. I really felt at home!


You are playing Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos with Michael Houstoun in March – have you performed with him before? Looking forward to it? 

I am very excited and privileged to be performing with Michael Houstoun. His name has been with me since the very beginning of my musical life – from the day I first discovered those original Beethoven recordings at the city library. Apart from attending masterclasses with him some years ago, the only time I have ever collaborated with Michael was when I was once called in to page-turn for him in a concert. I look forward immensely to sharing the stage with him again – this time in a musical collaboration in which I also get to have my own piano to play.


You learnt piano here in Christchurch – who from and where, and what was your first concert? 

Yes, it was in Christchurch that I first discovered – quite serendipitously – my love for music. My parents soon recognised this new-found passion so when I was 12 years old they took me to keyboard classes with Penny Crosby. About a year later I switched to private piano lessons with Rosemary Stott. Things happened very quickly from there. When I was 14 I played my first concerto, my “debut” with the Christchurch School of Music orchestra at the Christchurch Junior Concerto Competition. At the time it was such a new and exciting experience for me and it still remains a memory I treasure. I feel tremendously lucky to still be doing this today.

Have you had a chance to check out the rebuild of the Christchurch Town Hall? 

Not yet but I can’t wait to see – and hear it! I fondly remember performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.2 with Sir William Southgate and the CSO at the National Concerto Competition final in the Town Hall 10 years ago.


You hand-picked the Steinway piano that will be housed in our new Town Hall – what was that process and how did you decide? 

It was a fascinating experience. When I arrived at the Hamburg Steinway factory that morning, the first thing I noticed was the New Zealand flag that greeted us at the entrance. I was told they only host one selection a day. Before being shown to the pianos I was first given an exclusive two-hour tour of the factory. It was inspiring to witness the dedication and craftsmanship and the amount of meticulous detail that go into creating these beautiful instruments. At the conclusion of this insightful tour I was escorted to the selection room on the top floor of the factory. To reach it you first pass through a hallway in which every square inch of the four walls is adorned with personally inscribed portraits of just about every important pianist on the planet; Steinway artists – from past legends to current stars – who all had hand-picked their piano in this very room. It was an impressive but intimidating sight! The selection process itself was challenging and took a while. In the end I selected an instrument that was a good all-rounder yet I felt still had its own distinct character. It allowed for a wide variety of shadings and colours and was overall a very inspiring instrument, one I enjoyed playing on and discovering all its many possibilities. I cross my fingers and hope our Christchurch audience will agree! As I was leaving the building at the end of the day, an employee just off work pointed up at the flag and was curious to know where it’s from. “Neuseeland!” I replied. I guess it’s not every day that they send a Steinway D Concert Grand to this side of the world.


Who’s your favourite composer and/or composition to play? 

That depends – I’d say it is usually what I’m working on at the moment. The music of Schubert, Schumann and Mozart particularly speaks to me. I have a great admiration for Bartók, whose pioneering work in Hungarian folk and peasant music is extremely fascinating.


What are your proudest achievements to date?

Recording and releasing my debut solo album on Rattle Records this year was a real highlight. On it I play music by Bach, Bartók and Schumann plus a short work of my own. It was a tremendously rewarding experience and one I’m very happy to be able to share with others. In 2019 I have some exciting engagements lined up in Europe and Asia, as well as a nationwide solo tour with Chamber Music New Zealand. I’m truly grateful for having all these wonderful opportunities, especially in a 
highly competitive world that is saturated with so many extraordinary talents. We face many challenges as musicians today, so I value every chance I get to share all this incredible music. It certainly makes it worth while!