An accomplished young concert pianist, Chinese-born and -raised Rixiang Huang has spent many years at some of the most prestigious conservatories in the U.S., including the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Juilliard School. In New York, under the tutelage of Matti Raekallio and Juilliard’s veteran pianist, Jerome Lowenthal, he received his Master of Music degree before being accepted by another great mentor, the wonderful pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, as a DMA candidate and graduate teaching assistant at USC Thornton School of Music.
With some notable competition wins under his belt, he is building a name for himself among America’s outstanding performing artists to watch out for.
But offstage, on the streets of America, away from the large percentile of Asian youth, partaking of the international classical culture at universities around the U.S., Rixiang has often felt discriminated against. Walking home from the conservatory, or on his subway rides, he has often encountered demeaning looks and racial slurs, like “Go back to China!” It’s a deeply hurtful and offensive experience to a young man’s ego, especially as he was not brought up to fight back. The conservative way of tolerating such offenses, rather than to causing more trouble is, in his opinion, one of the causes that makes Asians easy targets of ethnically discriminating attacks.
Rixiang performs Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Even among the international population on campus, he says: “Asians are known for practicing a lot and stand out in math/sciences/ and…piano. I often heard, oh yes, that’s the only thing you Asians are good at,” he says.
The prospect of their children having the opportunity achieve the “American dream” has become an incentive for many Asian families, who, sometimes making great financial sacrifices, send their kids to America hoping they will achieve a successful career. In the hopes of finding the next Lang Lang, China has mobilized masses of ambitious parents and budding young pianists. If one believes the rumors of extreme discipline, made famous through the superstar pianist’s descriptions of his childhood days at the piano, it comes as no surprise that Asian pianists are renowned – and often envied – for their enormous technical dexterity. This has frequently resulted in prejudiced estimations that Asians can boast only of such prodigal technique, while lacking in vital artistic elements of pianistic artistry. Asian performers have often had to unfairly struggle to dismantle such generalizing, negative beliefs.
Listening to some of Huang’s performances, such as his debut recording French Romance, leaves no doubt that this artist unites both elements of the craft, the technique necessary to gain musical freedom and the sensitivity and imagination to reach artistic heights of expression, with finely calibrated shadings in coloring and tone.
Awarded first prize at the 12th Chopin International Piano Competition in Harford as well as in the Los Angeles International Liszt Piano Competition this year, his well-deserved critical accolades, among them a stellar New York concert review, send him off to his five-city solo recital tour in his native China.
“I believe that music can change a person’s fate and also change how others perceive you,” he says. “Music is a common language, and while I am also Asian, my identity in music connects me to a much larger world.”
He had a firsthand experience of how music can connect vastly different people, of all ages and of different heritages, when he accepted an artist in residence program at the Cleveland retirement home Judson Manor. “My friends thought I was joking when I told them that I will live there for a year, 21 years old in a retirement community,” he says.
But the year was a special time he remembers fondly. In exchange for giving weekly masterclasses and concerts, he was offered free accommodation, but most importantly, he felt, it made him a better human being. Becoming part of a community of mostly retired professors and politicians, he found himself engaging in stimulating conversations and developing personal friendships. “I truly was inspired by how supportive many of these new friends were, and how they supported me in developing as an artist. Before I prepared repertoire for a big concert, such as my Carnegie Hall recital, I would run the program through for them – many are truly knowledgeable – and they were able to give me valuable feedback.
“But beyond that, I felt I was able to bring joy to their lives. Some were isolated, with few family members left to visit, and I was proud to bring them joy and a shared humanity so close to their hearts. I remain in touch with many friends from this community and have found the true mission that music has for me: connecting me to people around the world, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and all that keeps us diverse and – human. “