Rosey Chan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am


THE MUSIC LESSON We always played music in the house, from Beethoven and Brahms to Chinese Opera and Barbra Streisand, but it was classical music I was drawn to. I wanted to become a conductor and would steal a chopstick from the kitchen and stand on a stool, waving it around, pretending I was conducting Beethoven. My mother, the warmest-hearted, most eccentric person I know, doesn't play piano but would improvise music to set the mood for her bedtime stories to get my brother and me to sleep, which didn't always work - I was an energetic kid. My brother is an amazing violinist and pianist and plays in a rock band part time, but he decided to go into graphic design.

FIRST NOTES It was my grandmother who picked up that I had a good ear for music and enrolled me in piano lessons. She would play tunes on the piano and I would play them back on my toy keyboard. At five, I was sent to a Saturday music school at London's Royal Academy of Music and then got a scholarship at 11 to the Royal Academy itself. While there, I was exposed to ensemble music - orchestral and chamber - and I performed in a trio and a piano duo and that probably influenced my passion for collaborations now. Then I spent four years at the Royal College of Music, where I had a wonderful teacher who had a background in jazz, and we spent the first part of our lessons improvising on two pianos.

ALL THAT JAZZ I used to perform with Cassie Yukawa in the Yukawa-Chan piano duo, but I went solo in 2008. Although I come from a classical background, I am carving out my own genre of classical music with jazz improvisation, film and photography, and combining all those influences. I am greatly influenced by Impressionistic music like that of Ravel and Debussy. Bach's music really swings and is one of my biggest inspirations. He influenced one of my all-time idols, Bill Evans, the seminal jazz pianist who radically changed the map of jazz piano, so I always like to programme Bill Evans into my concerts. I've not left the classical world - I still play at Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall, but in the same week I could also be performing at the 100 Club in London or The Box in New York, where you get a younger, hipper audience, with a different musical background. As a musician it is your duty to give back something in your concerts, so I talk about the music and people come up afterwards and say it helped them visualise it.

WINE, DINE AND SHINE I recorded my first album, One, at Sting's studios in Tuscany [Italy] in 2009 and he will produce my new album, Surface Tensions, later this year. He gave me the studio, the tools and left me to my own aesthetic choices. I get quite obsessive when I record, probably because I have a regimented lifestyle. He told me to loosen up, saying music is about the soul. I would record, have dinner and a glass of wine then go back and record. Most of the pieces recorded after dinner made it to the album.

MUSIC BE THE FOOD ... The whole art scene and cultural awareness of artists is rapidly developing. We live in a cyber generation so we are finding new ways to present classical music, jazz and so forth. I am obsessed with experimenting and presenting something in a different way. Music has an abstract, emotional quality and, as someone interested in working with different types of art forms like dance and architecture, it is fantastic. I did a live-stream with [photographer] Nick Knight on his; I've worked with DJ Spooky; the filmmaker Mike Figgis [who also plays bass guitar]; architect Peter Macapia and soon with [Lebanese singer] Yasmine Hamdam. I am performing this summer with American-Chinese pianist Grace Fong at a festival of music, wine and food at Villa Petrolo in Tuscany that was launched in 2009 by Luca Sanjust [owner of the Petrolo Winery], Mike Figgis, myself and some other friends. I talk about music, the wine expert talks about wine - it is a little more rock 'n' roll than usual festivals and includes local wine-growers and the young.

TIES THAT BIND Past, Present, Future was an installation [live performance with photography and video] I presented at ArtHK last year based on time and memories and exploration of my family roots. My mother is from Beijing and my father, an Oxford scholar who became a businessman and then studied and practised Chinese medicine, is from Hong Kong. This gave me the excuse to look through family albums and find out about my relations. Even though I was brought up in the UK, with traditional Chinese roots, it was within a Western environment and I felt very sheltered from my extended family. I played Schumann's Traumerai, which is a simple nostalgic piece, and screened a film exploring my ideas of a classical pianist using three characters: my goddaughter, my grandmother and myself. It taps into nostalgia and memories.

WELL SUITED Zowie Broach, at fashion label Boudicca, was the first to make me break out of the classical musician mould. She has a music video background and we talked about repertoire and jazz and she said, 'If you play Tom Waits, wear a smoking jacket.' What I wear is important as it affects the way I perform, so it needs to be practical, but I like to feel elegant and sophisticated. I might wear McQueen or Boudicca for the big stage, but if it's a smaller, more intimate audience I might wear a masculine suit and play on the androgyny thing. I also wear [Hong Kong designer] Barney Cheng and appear in his new charity fashion book.