Upclose: Mark Anthony Chao
Doctor-turned-classical musician Mark Anthony Chao is set to perform in a solo recital, with his own arrangements of pieces by the composers including Brahms and Chopin. The pianist talks to Andrea Lo about what medicine and music have in common.
HK Magazine: When did you learn to play the piano?
Mark Anthony Chao: I studied in England. When I was 15, I had a friend who was taking piano lessons. He said, “You love music so much—why don’t you learn how to play the piano?” It changed my life.
HK: How’d you make the career shift?
MC: I decided to be a doctor because I felt medicine was a difficult subject with a lot of things worth learning about. I worked at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, specializing in cancer. I left to audition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Incredibly, I got in. I took a post-graduate course for three years.
HK: So what do music and medicine have in common?
MC: There are similarities between the two subjects: They both require serious professional training, discipline and apprenticeship. There’s no such thing as art being wrong, but you can’t do whatever you want with classical music.
HK: Would you go back into medicine one day?
MC: I’m not going to go back into medicine. Music is great for me. When you’re playing the piano, you’re experiencing the greatest in human achievement. You see things that make the world a better place. Medicine is not about being great—it’s about being decent. There’s no such thing as a great doctor. When he makes you feel better, you feel great—but the doctor is just being competent.
HK: How did you end up back in Hong Kong?
MC: Following Russia, I came back to Hong Kong just after SARS. I have been working on music since. In the last 10 years, on average, I’ve had the chance to perform every two years. I’ve done two solo recitals.
HK: What do you do on a daily basis?
MC: I don’t really have a day job. I explore music and practice the piano. I give piano lessons. Don’t forget that even Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven made money mostly from teaching.
HK: Do you think stamina is important for a professional musician?
MC: My physique doesn’t fit that of a pianist. I go to the gym every day. I’m probably the only pianist in the world with a six-pack.
HK: What is your favorite and least favorite thing about Hong Kong?
MC: I can’t talk about what my least favorite thing is about Hong Kong, because it would offend the government. Hong Kong is short-sighted. What defines brilliance? If someone works a high-ranking position at a bank?
HK: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
MC: Sometimes, you need to be proud of yourself and talk yourself up. But remember humility is even more important. When you are an artist, if you are too shy, you can’t succeed.
HK: What can people expect from your upcoming concert?
MC: The last piece of the program is a score rarely heard in concert. Beethoven wrote this gigantic piece. It’s like the word Americans like to use: “awesome.” The technical requirements are so daunting that most famous pianists would be reserved about putting it in a program. I have no need to keep a reputation. I want to play that piece.
Catch Mark Anthony Chao’s piano recital on June 27, 7:30pm. Recital Hall, 8/F, City Hall, 5 Edinburgh Place, Central. Call 9602-8617 for more info. $150 from urbtix.hk.