Lauded for her “particularly lovely” playing and “boundless creativity”, collaborative pianist Candace Chien is an active performer and teacher in the New York City area. Recent concert season appearances include performances at Kimmel Center Perelman Hall and Academy of Music, Five Boroughs Music Festival, New Hampshire Music Festival, collaborations with Fresh Squeezed Opera and Opera On Tap and more. She continues her role as pianist for On Site Opera, including a featured performance at Caramoor’s summer season alongside Stephanie Blythe and Laquita Mitchell. She was also chosen as Music for Autism’s Spotlight Artist of 2022, advocating for neurodiverse classical music experiences with “extraordinary artistry and humanity.”
On Friday, January 20, Candace Chien will perform Camille Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with The Chelsea Symphony.
The Chelsea Symphony: Can you tell us about your first time playing with TCS?
Candace Chien: My first concert with Chelsea Symphony was pretty memorable: it was for Earth Day of 2018. I played celesta for John Luther Adams’s Become Ocean under the big whale at the American Museum of Natural History. Between the lighting, being in such a unique space, and the expansive music itself, you could really feel the audience being drawn into the perfect intersection between nature and art!
On a less important level, other things I remember are that the celesta was blue and matched the whale, I marked out a LOT of patterns on my music, experiencing the museum after dark was great fun, and that a pigeon casually walked through the cafeteria where musicians kept their personal items the day of the concert.
TCS: What is the most challenging part of playing a concerto?
CC: I had to think long and hard about this, because there are a lot of little things that contribute, but together they added up to the fundamental ethics of playing a cornerstone of classical music repertoire. The responsibility to do right by the composer and the great pianists who have recorded and performed Saint-Saëns challenges me to new musical and technical heights.
TCS: What about the most fun part of playing a concerto?
CC: The entire experience is fun! Playing the concerto itself is fun! The dressing up is fun! Feeling the orchestra as support is fun! Performing with friends is fun! There is a sense of achievement from learning a romantic concerto, much like climbing an iconic mountain. I also find boundless freedom and joy in being able to use a big, rich, and projected sound, and being able to freely have my musical opinion on the table.
There is this incredible bonus that performing a concerto is not an everyday occurrence, although I think creating more concerto opportunities should be my resolution for 2023! In my daily performing life, I am playing in collaboration with others in chamber music, opera, and of course, orchestras. As a collaborative pianist, your priorities are based in harmonic support, voicing, rhythmic stability: essentially, the perfect character behind the throne. While I want to bring the musicianship skills in my collab playing to a concerto performance, finally getting to be the soloist sets free a certain part of my naturally exuberant and chatty personality. It’s exciting to have a diverse performing life as a pianist, where you get to see all perspectives of music making!
TCS: What feelings come up for you when you are playing this piece?
CC: A quote often credited to Polish pianist Zygmunt Stokowski said that this particular concerto “begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach.” At first listen, it is distinctly a serious romantic concerto. However, the capriciousness of the whole piece tosses that aside quickly, and even the moments of pathos can’t be taken too seriously. You’ll actually hear some downright silly moments as well! So, through these many moods, I’d say that the overarching feeling I have is to prioritize playfulness, not take myself too seriously, and fully invest in having fun with the process.
TCS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your upcoming solo feature?
CC: Fun fact—my husband, Nicholas Pappone, is concertmaster for this cycle! Interestingly enough, out of the many concert cycles we have played with TCS, this is only the third concert cycle that we’ve played together in the same concert. We usually perform duo sonatas and chamber music together as the Alighieri Duo, so we are very familiar with working together, it will be just in a different setup and perspective. So, I guess it is a family affair for us this cycle. All we are missing is our chow chow, Fritz!
Join us at 8pm on Friday, January 20th at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music at 450 West 37th Street for Candace’s performance of Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2!