How about a little fanfare for this outstanding Hong Kong pianist?

Rachel Cheung still can’t quite believe her success at a major competition in the US, but she and her coach are disappointed at the lack of response back home

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 8:03am

Hong Kong musicians do well on the world stage and could use a little more support at home, a competition finalist and her professor have said.

Rachel Cheung Wai-ching, a finalist and winner of the audience prize at the 15th Van Cliburn Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, was still in disbelief after picking up the award on June 10.

“I am really proud to be representing Hong Kong as there hasn’t been a Hong Kong pianist that has reached the last 30 players in this competition,” Cheung, 25, said of the coveted event held every four years.

“I never imagined I could go this far, and it’s a dream come true to be among the final six. It shows Hong Kong musicians can really stand a place in the international scene.”

She was up against 29 contestants from 14 countries and regions in the preliminary round. After three rounds in two weeks, she faced two Americans, two Russians and a Korean, all men, in the finals.

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“I stayed away from all social media and deleted the Facebook apps in order to stay focused,” she said.

“As I didn’t expect I would make it to the final, I was underprepared for the Brahms Piano Quintet required in the final round the day after the Mozart D minor concerto in semi-final. So I practised all night until five of my 10 fingers were busted.”

Her hard work paid off with the audience prize and the US$10,000 that came with it.

“It was an intense period of three weeks and I lost six pounds. The pressure built up so much that once it’s over my skin allergy got all flared up and I needed to see a doctor.”

I teach them to perform to the best of their ability and remain happy even if they don’t get any medals
Professor Eleanor Wong Yee-lun, Cheung’s coach

Professor Eleanor Wong Yee-lun, a renowned piano teacher for prodigies at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, said young Hong Kong pianists were the most hard-working bunch and held their own at international competitions.

“I teach them to perform to the best of their ability and remain happy even if they don’t get any medals, as long as they have done their best,” said Wong, a frequent juror at major competitions who started coaching Cheung when she was 10.

“I am happy for Rachel to win the audiences and that I think matters more than the juries who sometimes get too opinionated. Rachel has gone through very tough times and it was through her amazing perseverance that she got herself into the Van Cliburn finals.”

Wong recalled how Cheung was almost forced to quit piano when she got meningitis while on a tour in Russia aged 12. But she pulled herself together after a year’s treatment.

The same intensity, Wong said, might not be to the every jury’s liking.

“If she could release a little of the tension in her playing, that might make a difference,” she said.

For all the hard work and the latest accolade of her star pupil, Wong was surprised Hong Kong did not follow Seoul and Paris, who have booked Cheung to perform later this year.

“I don’t think it is that difficult to organise a post-competition concert for Rachel to play the home crowd the Van Cliburn programme, starting with APA perhaps,” she said.

“The act would allow us to show our appreciation for her and would set an example for upcoming students.”

Cheung said all she needed was an invitation to play. “Performing is life to a pianist – it is that important,” she said.