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Joyce Yang

A Conversation with Joyce Yang

The Nashville Symphony regularly brings some of the world’s most accomplished classical musicians to town to perform with your orchestra. With each Classical Series concert this year, our goal is to bring you exclusive content with these soloists so you can learn more about their artistry and their insights into the music.

This weekend, pianist Joyce Yang returns to Nashville to perform Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Nashville Symphony. We caught up with her by phone while she was in Alaska and performing with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra ahead of her trip to Music City.

What are you looking forward to most about playing with the Nashville Symphony?

It’s a real joy when I return to an orchestra that I’ve played with recently. The re-invitation means a lot to me. It really makes me happy that they want to hear more of me.

Do you have a close, personal connection to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto?

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is the only concerto that I have recorded. I played it for the opening season of the Ft. Worth Symphony, and I remember Van Cliburn, who’s now passed away, in one of the last times I saw him, saying that he was the one that started to clap after the first movement because he was so enthusiastic. It was his [signature] piece, and those beautiful words from him meant a lot to me.

This piece is one of the best-known piano concertos in the repertoire. How do you prepare for it?

It’s a piece that has gone through many transformations. When you have a piece in your fingers for 10 years, you go through different chapters. I think at this point, it’s a piece that’s very close to my heart. When you first start it, it’s a very dramatic condition. You work on the octaves, and you take everything to the extreme. After you work on it for a while, it sinks in, in one way or another. I feel like I have nothing to prove with this piece, because it’s just so gorgeous.

As you’ve become a more seasoned musician, have your career goals changed over the past few years?

It’s constantly changing where I want to go with my career and music making. The backbone that stays the same is that I really view myself as a collaborator. I realized that I’m much happier collaborating with an orchestra or chamber group, or even just individual artists and dancers. Those last two have been limited to me, but the act of collaboration and having different creative minds come together is what really excites me.

Even though I do a handful of solo recitals, which is a gift to pianists because it’s the core of what keeps us in shape and in tune, I try to do as many interesting projects as possible. I really view myself as a project artist. I love coming back to the classics and doing the big Russian concerti. I feel like that will always be the core of what I do, but aside from that, I would really like to branch out.

Next year, I’m hoping I have a growing project with some dancers and really defining music through visual arts, because a lot of music making for me is with the help of what I see around me and what I envision. With each passage, I really try to think of those colors and shapes, and that’s what is most inspiring to me when I go to museums. Looking at beautiful art really does inspire me to play music in a different way. In the next five years, I’d like to come up with an interesting project to help people experience music from a different light.

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Thank you so much to Joyce Yang for taking the time to speak with us. You can hear her perform with the Nashville Symphony October 2 and 3 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Click here to learn more about her Friday-morning Coffee & Classics performance, and click here to learn more about her Friday- and Saturday-evening Classical Series performances.