As in all performing arts, a musician's career is a pain-into-joy life. As Jazz musicians say—dig it, love it, and be "hip."
To make a career as a soloist in the so-called "classical" or "serious" music world has always been an excruciating road to follow. Today, even with the broadening array of information, marketing and educational opportunities, it is surprisingly more difficult. Talent is a gift and the nurture and development of that talent is also—a self-realized gift. But together, the gift and its nurture will take the artist on the grueling journey to a soloist's career only as far as she can project herself into the expanding horizons around her, perceive who she is, the music she plays, and love it.
See, meet and listen to Di Wu. She is a pianist and a soloist. She has performed with orchestras in Europe, North America, Singapore, and with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, and toured China. She won a number of competitions, trained at the Curtis Institute of Music, and recently entered the prestigious Julliard School in New York for advanced study under a full scholarship. She's been a concert-stage performer for over 10 years. And she's only 22!
When asked about her childhood, she says easily: "I was born in Nanjing, China. I moved to Xiamen, a city right across from Taiwan but on the mainland, when I was three years old, and I stayed there till I was 12. My childhood? It was busy, because unlike a normal child, most of my free time was spent practicing the piano since the age of four. I actually didn't graduate with honor from my kindergarten because I was so busy. (smiling) I was not happy then!
I was the only child so I have no siblings. My parents are both musicians. They are as devoted as parents can ever be to their children, and they invested everything they had in me. It's a commitment that I will forever remember and be grateful for."
When asked about how she came to the U.S., she offers: "Oh… it was very interesting how I got to come to the United States. I played with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra when I was 12, and the principal cellist liked me very much. A few weeks later, the orchestra was playing with another pianist from the United States, and her teacher came with her. The cellist helped me to get in touch with the teacher right before the concert, and the teacher liked me and brought me to the United States (with her Mother, of course). I came to the United States because it has some of the best music schools and some of the best teachers in the world, and to this day I don't regret the decision."
As she describes it, Di Wu lives a 24/7 life in 24/7 Manhattan—her work at Julliard, her concerts, her first concert album, and a full menu of other interests. "I practice at least 4-5 hours a day, with the exception of extremely busy days. My day starts off with classes in the morning on some days, work studies in the afternoon on some days, and practice till 11pm. Then I start to work on my career and finish any school work that I have, sometimes to as late as 3am. Then I go to sleep and start over again the next day."
She's also single, on her own for the first time (her Mother is back in China), and she's in love with her life.
Di Wu is hip!
Here's more of the recent conversation we had.
How were you introduced to music and when did you or anyone else realize that you were gifted?
"Well, both of my parents are musicians. My dad is a baritone opera singer and my mom is a dancer. When I was four, my parents brought me a piano as a gift, from then on, I just felt in love with it."
Do you play any other instruments?
(laughing) "I can't, piano is more than enough for me to handle."
When did you and anyone else realize that you were gifted?
"I don't know if there was any realization of such at first, since my parents' initial intent was only to give me a well rounded background and education. What was noticed was that when I was young, I was able to sit down for hours playing without anyone forcing me, and the amount of interest was what made my parents start taking me to serious lessons."
Who inspired you as a teacher?
"My first teacher was Peili Zhang. She taught me for eight years, and to this day, I thank her for the solid foundation that she gave me when I was young.
And later I was fortunate enough to have great teachers along the way. Since I came to United States, Zenon Fishbein, Gary Graffman, and my current teacher, Yoheved Kaplinsky, have been my main source of inspiration, and I am really grateful for the opportunity to study with such great musicians. "
Why did you decide to enter a graduate-degree program at Julliard instead of embedding yourself with a master teacher and simply building your performance career?
"The Julliard School is one of the best music schools in the world. I have always wanted to study at Julliard, and after graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music, it was the perfect opportunity. By being a student at Julliard, not only do I get lessons from great teachers, I also have the opportunity to work with my colleagues who are some of the most talented musicians nowadays. I learn so much by playing chamber music with fellow instrumentalists and exchanging ideas with my fellow pianists, experiences like these do not come if I simply take lessons and practice on my own. And I not only learn from other musicians, I also learn through them from their teachers. It's a treasure of experience for me."
We talked for a while about her performing experiences, her first concert, and whether she ever had any doubts about pursuing a career in music. After some small talk, she segued into this:
"I gave my first ever performance at age five. Honestly I don't remember what happened, but according to my mom, I was so nervous (as I expect myself to be) that I looked paper-white when I walked up to the stage, and I couldn't even stand on my own so I leaned on the piano when I bowed. My mom immediately realized then that I needed more practice performing in front of the public, so she found more opportunities for me to get in front of an audience. After a few tries, I began get used to it.
My professional performing experience has been wonderful. It's important for me to love my music and to have audiences love it too. From that point of view, audiences in America and China and Europe… are almost the same. It's the music.
Another Career? Well, I'm pretty good with multitasking and organizing things, so if I set my mind on something I'll make sure that it gets done. One time I considered becoming an MBA candidate, but when it actually comes down to it, I think I've been too free all my life to be able to handle the restrictions of an office life, especially working-hour-schedule-wise, so, I dropped the idea.
I think a lot of people have had doubts somewhere along the way in their careers, and I'm no exception. But at the end of the day, music is what makes me smile, and performing music is what makes me happy, so whatever doubts I have are out the window."
Tell me about how your career developed, who managed it?
"I've been lucky enough to encounter some great opportunities along the way, and till now, I've been managing myself. Some of the concerts I got were from winning competitions, and some I got from people who heard my playing. I don't have manager or agent yet. A good manager is hard to find and I'm dead-set on finding the right one, one who wants to build a career rather than take it over. I've got time."
And I segued into this:
Who are your favorite pre-20th century classical composers?
"I love Rachmaninoff. His music is so heart wrenchingly beautiful that I feel in love with it every time I play his work. I also adore Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart."
Who are your favorite 20th century composers?
"Prokofiev, Scriabin, Ravel, Gershwin, and Copland."
Have you played trios and quartets, and do you like it?
"Yes, I have played quite a bit of chamber music. I really like playing chamber music because it's so much fun and I enjoy so much the exchange of musical ideas between players."
Do you like Jazz?
"Oh yes, I really like jazz, and not only do I enjoy listening to Jazz, I took a class last semester in Jazz improvisation. Let me tell you, it was a whole new world! There were things that I never thought I could do but I did, and there were many other things that I still can't do. I have so much respect for Jazz musicians, and my favorites are Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum, among many others."
Do you like pop and rock?
"Yes I do. You probably would be surprised to see what's in my Ipod, because the music there ranges from Rap to Punk Rock, Pop to Country, Heavy Metal to Jazz. I listen to everything!"
Some of the photos on your website are not what most people see when they look at a concert pianist. Ever think of modeling?
"Umm… the responses to my photos have been positive (laughing) . Some were professionally shot, some actually were shot by my friends. I will always be a pianist, foremost, and if opportunities for modeling or acting come along in the mean time, I'll definitely consider it. (smiling) Maybe."
I asked her about her private life. Di Wu is a very private person.
Are you romantically involved with someone, do you plan to marry eventually, to have children? If so, how would you reconcile this with your career?
"No, I'm single, because my life is busy enough as it is now, As for my future love life, let's leave it to the future because it's more fun this way."
Do you dance, do you cook?
"I do dance, just... not well. I try my best though (laughing). I'm actually a good cook, I can cook anything that I can find a recipe for, and I can also cook Chinese food from scratch."
Do you like chocolate?
"Yes… of course! Godiva Chocolate is the best!"
With that I leave you with this, another segue—Is she hip? Or is she hip?