It’s never too late to begin listening to classical music, according to pianist Qi Xu. But then again, the 17-year-old got an early start.
The virtuoso first found himself behind a piano at age 5 and launched his professional career at age 10 from his hometown in Shenzhen, China. He’s since toured the world, trotting across Asia to Europe and the United States—including “Pianofest” on the East End—and currently studies at the Juilliard School of Music in Manhattan.
“I just greatly appreciate music, for it has taught me so much that no other form of expression could have done,” he wrote in an email last week. “In music, you could sense something, something like a kind of space, but does not exist in visual form.”
There is power in listening to classical music, he said, and feeling connected to it without effort. He said he hopes to deliver that same emotion when he closes this season’s “Rising Stars Piano Series” on Saturday, June 9, at the Southampton Cultural Center, seated behind a $106,000 Steinway concert grand piano.
“It’s good to end with someone who’s very young and has a fantastic program,” Liliane Questel, founder and director of the series, said during a telephone interview last week. “He sent me such a great selection that I just, ‘Oh wowed.’ The works he’s going to play are extremely brilliant. And extremely difficult.”
Qi thinks of his 50-minute, three-piece program as a slice of music history, he said. The first is from the classical era, the second from the romantic era and the last from the 20th century—“Sonata Op. 109 No. 31 in E major” by Ludwig van Beethoven, “Réminiscences de Don Juan” by Franz Liszt and “Three Movements from Petrushka” by Igor Stravinsky, respectively. The latter has never been played in the series’s nine-year repertoire, Ms. Questel said.
“The Beethoven represents salvation of the soul, the Liszt represents liberation of thought and the Stravinsky represents the prevalence of realism,” Qi said. “So it is actually more than a gallery of music history but, instead, human history, too.”
Any musical piece undergoes three steps of composition—composer, performance and audience, Qi said—and in each phase, new meaning is added to the music, creating endless “combinations of meaning,” he said. It is this cycle that guarantees classical music will never be outdated or forgotten in the modern world, he said.
“Human civilization is always supported and developed by those who learn and extract from the past in order to construct the future and to preserve the continuity of the civilization,” he said, “whereas being purely revolutionary and hostile to the past is always destructive.”
While Qi remains certain of classical music’s steadfast presence in society, Ms. Questel is confident in the future of the “Rising Stars Piano Series.” Next year’s slate of nine pianists—compared to this year’s six—is already booked for its 10th anniversary, she said, beginning on September 29 with Tanya Gabrielian.
“I’ve been ready to remove the ‘rising’ from ‘Rising Stars Piano Series,’” Ms. Questel said. “Some have already risen! But that’s the way it’s known. I want to tell the public, ‘This is not a rising star. It’s a star.’ They’ve already arrived.”
Not yet a high school graduate, Qi has received recognition across the globe. In 2008, he took first prize at the Krainev International Piano Competition in Kharvok, Ukraine, and last year, he won both first place and the Orchestra Prize at the Morocco International Piano Competition in Casablanca, making him the youngest competitor to ever reach such success in the contest’s history.
At Juilliard, he studies under Veda Kaplinsky, the chairwoman of the piano department. After graduation, he plans to continue his academic studies, not to mention his musical discoveries in the piano world.
“I enjoy classical music for its purity. Regardless of its style, classical music can purify one’s heart in the way that people feel the emotion and feelings the composers wrote down in music,” Qi said. “Everyone is born with zero knowledge, so for people who have never listened to classical music, I strongly, wishfully recommend to start listening to it.”
This season’s “Rising Stars Piano Series” will close with a performance by Qi Xu on Saturday, June 9, at 7 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center. A meet-and-greet reception with refreshments will follow. Tickets are $15 and free for students under 21 with ID. To buy tickets or for more information, call 287-4377 or visit scc-arts.org.
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