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Interview with Albert Tiu (Piano)

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Winner of 2000 International Web Concert Hall Competition

tiu_thumb.jpg (12467 bytes)MOL: Tell us about your musical background...
AT: I started the piano lessons when I was five. My parents, who are both not musical at all, thought that I should do something more constructive than running around the house and destroying everything in sight. In Philippines, almost every family had a piano at the time, as if it was a piece of furniture... and since we had a piano at home, a decision was made rather quickly by my parents to have some use of the instrument we already had. My sister was my first piano teacher. After a while, she wanted me to also learn the violin, but in our city, there was only one violin teacher, and it was very difficult to even find a playable instrument, so that never worked out.

I went to the Philippine High School for the Arts, which was a project of the then-first lady of the country, Imelda Marcos. Attending this school has opened my mind to a whole different world to a new level. The school I attended was a boarding school. Therefore, I lived away from home for the first time at the age of eleven. Upon graduating the high school,  I entered the University of Philippines. One day, when I was accompanying some singers in an audition in Manila for the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the director of the Academy, who also was a pianist, liked my playing very much and offered me a scholarship on the spot. So I studied in Hong Kong for two years. While in Hong Kong, the same thing happened which brought me to my next destination. There was a group of representatives from some American conservatories conducting auditions for prospective students, and again, I was accompanying some people, and I was offered a seat at the Boston Conservatory. So I spent two years there, before I headed to New York to study at the Juilliard School.

MOL: Who are your teachers? And when you recall some of your teachers what are the first and best qualities you remember?
Jerome Lowenthal
- he always made me play more "horizontally", even if I was already thinking of the music that way. His analogies to non-musical references like poetry and philosophy not only seemed to clarify things, but provided a lot of inspiration as well. He also freed up my playing
somewhat, and I think I learned how to play with much more imagination.
Michael Lewin - he made me think of sounds which I had not thought of before, and to transfer them in piano playing.
Nelly Castro - she was my teacher in the Philippines, and she is the reason why I am doing what I am doing now, and I owe a lot to her.

MOL: How did your parents influence you as a musician?
My parents never wanted me to take music seriously, as a career, because there are no prospects for a classical musician in the Philippines, so earlier in my life, they discouraged me from pursuing my musical dream. It was only after I had some degree of success at what I do that they realized that it's not so bad after all. But thanks to them, I now have a realistic and practical approach to the pitfalls that each one of us encounters as a struggling and upcoming musician.

MOL: Do you teach?
I teach privately, which suits me at the moment, because my schedule is so irregular, and this allows me to go away whenever I can.

MOL: Tell us about your teaching methods? What do you mostly emphasize to your students and why?

I think the most important aspect of being a musician is to always listen carefully. It takes years and years of training to be able to develop your own concept of sound... and of course, the mechanism that produces that sound. One of the challenges that we all have, and which I emphasize to my students is that what they hear is not necessarily what is heard by someone else.

MOL: Do you practice what you preach to your students?
Because I have to search for the right words to sufficiently convey my meaning to my students, I find that whatever I am saying to them, I am also saying to myself. So, in fact, I am my own teacher, and so I also learn a lot when I am teaching.

MOL: Do you have a practicing method you follow everyday?
I think that practicing should never be treated as a routine, like brushing teeth and showering. In fact, I don't think I brush my teeth and shower the same way and at the same time every day. In other words, I always try to find ways to make my practicing interesting, but efficient as well. Sometimes, I may feel the need to do some scales, but even so, I create challenges for myself... for example, playing melodic minor scales in contrary motion and crossed hands or with the hands playing in different keys, etc... With my pieces, I feel that it's important to break it a part into sections, especially when it's a big work, like a sonata. So, I may pick a certain section to work on one day, and another section another day, and then put them together on yet another day, and it's amazing sometimes how we actually make progress during the time that we did not touch that particular section or piece of music. Recently, I have taken an interest in playing some of the Godowsky Studies after Chopin, so I try to play one a day, just for fun. His writing is very innovative, especially for the left hand.

MOL: How much do you practice daily before a performance?
It depends. If I'm playing a big recital program or a concerto, I need more time, of course, which means about four to five hours a day. But as the concert date approaches, like for instance, a week before, I tend to taper off, and I may even practice other things or bring out something new to read.

MOL: How do you select repertoire for your recital?
The piano repertoire is so vast and extensive, and yet, a lot of pianists tend to choose the mainstream repertoire which everyone knows. Personally, I like to intersperse music that is not known with the standard works. I don't see why Bach and Stockhausen, or Sweelinck and
Chopin can't belong in the same programme, even if there is no direct connection between them. Although it can be fun to have even the most trivial connection, let's say, between Stockhausen and Chopin's G minor Ballade, which was dedicated to a certain Baron Stockhausen. There are
also lesser-known works by well-known composers that deserve more attention than they are being reviewed, for example, Rachmaninov's First Sonata, or his Chopin Variations. Last year, I made a recording of the Chopin Variations, together with other variations by Sweelinck and Copland, the Variations on an Original Theme Op.21 No.1 by Brahms, and the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, which I have used as a recital programme.

MOL: How do you select repertoire for your concerto performance?
I wish I could make more decisions regarding choices of concertos, but usually, these decisions are done by the conductor or the music director of an orchestra so that they can design entire programmes according to their taste or needs. I also like to learn and play concertos which are not in the standard repertoire, like Lou Harrison and Copland, and even Skryabin, but there are not enough conductors brave enough to challenge or programme this types of work.

MOL: What is your strength in your playing?
I would like to think that my playing contains a balance of emotion and intellect.

MOL: What do you hope to accomplish as a musician?
I would be very pleased to know if I have reached out to at least one person, whether it's to do with the music or not.

MOL: How many different concertos do you have that are ready to play within three weeks notice?
It depends on which orchestra you will be performing with! Even though I know Brahms D minor Concerto, I don't know if I'll have the courage to play it with, say, the Berlin Philharmonic on three weeks' notice.  But realistically, I will do it anyway, so I must say that I have perhaps 15 concertos which I'm ready to play given that time period.

MOL: Do you like any other forms of art?
Looking at paintings is so interesting for me, because even though the creative process is basically similar, i.e. in isolation, the end products are quite different. The painting will forever be there barring any disasters, and one can gaze at it with an infinite amount of possibilities, while a concert or recital is finished in two hours, just a memory. Unless if we are talking about recordings.

MOL: What do you like to read? And why?
History is always fascinating, especially the viewpoint from which it was written.

MOL: What are some of your recent reading?
Norman Lebrecht's When the Music Stops, which gives us some historical accounts on how the business of music was born and how much it has affected our lives today.

MOL: What do you do for hobby, if any?
Before we had our two-year-old son, my wife and I liked doing gigantic jigsaw puzzles of paintings, like Raphael's School of Athens, Panini's Art Gallery and St. Peter's Basilica. We're talking about 3000-5000 pieces, so they are now hanging on our apartment walls. Our last project, a 9000 piece puzzle of an ancient map of the world, is now put on hold until our son is little older.

MOL: What do you hope to achieve ten years from now in your music career?
I wish I can continue performing, whether it's solo, chamber music or accompanying.
MOL: On behalf of MusicalOnline, we would like to thank you for your time and we wish all the success.

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January, 2001

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