Piano Program alum Alvin Zhu reminisces on years at Chautauqua in advance of recital



World-class pianist Alvin Zhu will take the stage to perform a series of pieces dear to his heart at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

Zhu, who is the School of Music Piano Program’s fea- tured alumnus this summer, will be joining the Chautau- qua community for three days this week, delivering this afternoon’s recital and a master class tomorrow for the piano students.

“Having been a student in this program for three years myself, I know just how tal- ented these students can be,” he said. “I am more than excited to work with these bright young artists.”

Zhu participated in the Piano Program in the sum- mers of 2013, 2014 and 2015, where he stood out as a ris- ing star.

During his first summer, he won the Chautauqua Piano Competition, then returned the next year, having earned his master’s degree from Juilliard and acceptance into the Art- ist Diploma program at the Yale School of Music.

Zhu said he was “blown away by the dazzling prac- tice and performing spac- es, the world-class vocal program, and the multi- tudes of performances and

even lectures given at the Amphitheater” during his first year as a student.

“I had so much fun in the piano program as well, as co-chairs John Milbauer and Nikki Melville created such a dynamic and enrich- ing program that made the five weeks fly by,” he said.

The sentiment contin- ued for Zhu the following year, as he found himself “connecting more with the lovely community.”

“Familiar faces and spac- es made me feel like com- ing home,” he said.

His final sojourn in Chau- tauqua as a student was marked by “an opportuni- ty of a lifetime,” as he was about to play a concerto with the Chautauqua Sym- phony Orchestra in the Amp as part of a “Celebration of Mozart.” Zhu recalled the experience as “one of my fondest memories.”

“Those summers — those years, in fact — were per- haps some of my most transformative as a stu- dent,” Zhu said. “Something about it just made me come back year after year. It is truly a treasure.”

Now, returning 10 years later, he will begin his re- cital with Wolfgang Ama- deus Mozart’s “enigmatic” Fantasy in D Minor, fol- lowed by selections from Spanish composer Federi-

co Mompou’s “Impresiones Intimas.” The afternoon will continue with Freder- ic Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 62, No. 1 and George Ger- shwin’s Three Preludes, a “quintessential American classic.”

Zhu is set to open the sec- ond half of the recital with two preludes written in the 1950s by his paternal grandfather, Zhu Gongyi. Gongyi, who served for years as chair of the piano department at the Cen- tral Conservatory of Music in Beijing, is recognized with admiration by his grandson as a “master piano pedagogue whose influence in China is still widely felt today.”

The performance will continue with Brahms’ “de- lightful” 16 Waltzes, Op. 39, and it concludes with Austrian Alfred Grunfeld’s “opulent transcriptions” of Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.”

“Whenever I create a program, I try to put to- gether some of my favor- ite works alongside music that I believe that specific audience would enjoy,” Zhu said. “With music spanning three continents, six coun- tries, and almost 200 years, I believe there is something for everyone.”

He is currently on fac- ulty at The Tianjin Juilliard School in Binhai, China, where he is a teaching fel- low for undergraduate mu- sic theory and graduate music history.

“Working in China is dif- ferent than in anywhere else,” said Zhu. “It’s a place

where culture and the arts flourish to unimaginable proportions; millions of children study and idolize piano, while young people flock to attend lectures, master classes and con- certs given by Chinese and international artists.”

As one of these artists, Zhu said “most of my time is spent teaching, giving master classes and judging competitions all year round.”

Zhu has taught master classes at universities including Yale, Soochow, Texas State, Brigham Young and Weber State; at the conservatories of Wuhan, Sichuan, Xinghai and the Liu Shikun Arts School; and for the organizations of Steinway Beijing and Shanghai, the Tianjin Grand Theater and Lang Lang Music World, among others.

In 2021 alone, he served as a judge for the Lang Lang International Music Festival in Ningbo and Shenzhen, the Franz Liszt Interna- tional Piano Competition, the Paderewski Youth Piano Competition and the Paris Vivace International Piano Competition.

Zhu said the balance between teaching and performing “is quite chal- lenging at times.” In addi- tion to his responsibilities at Tianjin Juilliard, he has also guest lectured for the United States Embassy in Beijing, The Juilliard School in New York, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and Soochow Uni- versity in Taiwan. Despite these numerous obliga- tions, he still enjoys per- forming when possible.

“Every now and then, however, I am able to squeeze in a few concerts and tour around China,” Zhu said. He said he hopes he will be able to perform more now that there are fewer pandemic-related restrictions in place.


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