News Column

Philadelphia Young Pianist Academy festival fills a void

July 23, 2014

By David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer

July 24--Though Philadelphia seems not to lack classical music concerts or educational opportunities for young artists, Taiwanese pianist Ching-Yun Hu came home to her Academy House apartment one recent summer, wanted to hear live music, and discovered there wasn't any.

"I had just come back from my own festival in Taipei," she said. "People were so excited about it, and I thought, 'Why not do something similar here?' "

Now, in these sweaty late-July weeks, the festival she founded, the Philadelphia Young Pianist Academy, is in its second year and occupies the Curtis Institute's Field Concert Hall with a series of five concerts Saturday through Aug. 2. They are the most prominent manifestations of an intensive program of master classes and lectures.

The Saturday opening is an all-Chopin recital by the 32-year-old Hu and includes artists roughly of her generation -- Alexandre Moutouzkine (who is on the Astral Artists roster) on Monday; Zou Xiang, playing etudes of Ligeti, Chopin, and Debussy on Aug. 1; and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in a chamber-music concert on Aug. 2.

But the festival also will include a homecoming of sorts for Jerome Lowenthal, the 82-year-old mainstay on the Juilliard School piano faculty who is from Philadelphia and who will give a July 27 recital (his first here in years) that's typical of his wide-reaching musical tastes, including Charles-Valentin Alkan, Franz Liszt, and George Rochberg.

The festival draws on many of the contacts and connections with Hu's Yun-Hsiang International Music Festival in Taipei, begun after she won the 12th Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Israel in 2008 -- a great point of pride in her native Taiwan that prompted her to do something more than just playing concerts.

Hu is now on the adjunct faculty at Temple University and has a grassroots following from well-received recitals she gives at the William Way Center. She has lived in Philadelphia on and off since 1996, when several family members came here, mainly to live in a major American city. She was 14.

"I wanted to become a pianist, [but] none of my family were musicians and didn't know a lot about education," she recalls. With her sister (who went into accounting), Hu attended Friends Select School and spent Saturdays at Juilliard's pre-college division in New York City. She went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees there and also studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and later in Hannover, Germany.

When it came time to establish a U.S. base, Philadelphia drew her back. "I could live anywhere, I had just gotten my green card, and there are so many artistic things going on here," she said.

Except in the dead of summer. Her idea was to create a festival that didn't occupy months, as Aspen does, and was small enough that the 18 or so students could spend quality time with the four faculty members. She also says her own career wouldn't easily accommodate anything much bigger. Though her U.S. profile is still emerging, her popularity elsewhere is such that her opening-night recital will be recorded live for Sony Classical.

"The hall is very intimate, 230 seats, and the acoustics are fantastic," she said of the Curtis Institute's primary venue. The disc is a follow-up to her first Chopin CD on Archimusic, which won the Golden Melody Award (something of a Chinese Grammy).

In contrast, Lowenthal's concert promises to hail from a different world. His educational lineage started with Olga Samaroff in Philadelphia and went on to include the famed Alfred Cortot in Paris. Past collaborators included Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Monteux, Leonard Bernstein, and Eugene Ormandy. His absence from the concert scene here isn't easy to explain. "Somewhere," Hu said, "the Philadelphia connection [with Lowenthal] got lost."

All concerts are at 7:30 p.m. at Field Concert Hall at the Curtis Institute, 1726 Locust St., except for a Sunday performance at 4 p.m. Tickets: $12-25. Information:


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