What started your journey in music?
I was born into a family of musicians, and my father is a composer. I began piano lessons at the age of three. My parents first introduced me to the piano, and when I was 9 I decided to go professional, after winning a minor piano competition.
How did your parents first realise that you had talent for the instrument?
My parents took me once to a lesson when I just started to learn how to play the piano, and the teacher was shocked that I reacted when she played two different chords. And she immediately noticed that I am very sensitive to the change of harmonies so she told my parents I should definitely continue playing the piano.
What is your most memorable concert performance?
Every concert is unique to me, because with the different hall, different piano and different audiences, I have a different mood of creating the music at the moment. I have played in many countries; it doesn’t matter to me where I play. The most important thing for me is to share and lead my audience to the music that I truly love and studied.
What is your practice regime?
I practised a lot when I was younger. Now for me what’s more important than practice is to read, to experience, to feel. I believe many things in life can help me to be a better artist, rather than only practicing with my fingers. I listen to a lot of music — not only piano. I also immerse in a lots of literature, very deep novels like that of Dostoevsky. At first I didn’t understand it, but it’s exactly like playing Schubert, where at first I didn’t know what he was talking about with his sonata. Soon I learnt the language. I also read a lot of ancient Chinese philosophers where they talked about the meaning of life, which helped me to understand music. When I play I often can immediately refer to an incident or conversation from a novel. They are connected, the arts. And through literature you know much deeper about music, and how you phrase the music becomes different.
Do you think music has the potential to heal?
Absolutely! Music has the magic to move people’s emotions. I think we just need to focus a bit more on our emotions of everyday life, of all the array of human feelings we go through daily. When depression or loneliness hits me sometimes, just like anyone else, I make sure to be more aware of those feelings and remember how I felt at the time, and I try to channel those feelings into the right place in my music.
Do you feel the pressure of high expectations now?
It’s all about improving and making my music better. I hear myself one year ago, and I sound so different. You could study and play music your whole life and you can still never reach the highest level. I just compete with myself every day. I have played sonatas for over 10 years; I’ll still discover new things about them. I get nervous before playing, but that’s not external — it comes from within because of the standards I set myself. Whether I play alone or for 1,000 people that’s the same. It doesn’t matter what people think about me.
Legendary pianist supreme Mitsuko Uchida has said that she believes there is much pressure today for young pianists to be a star instantly. Thoughts?
It’s very difficult nowadays for young musicians to build a career and to be a star. In my case, I gave that up long ago. Fame is somewhat important, as without it how can one get concerts and fulfill the dream to present the music? But I think if the only goal is to pursue fame then your music will lose its purity — how will you play music if fame is your goal? Fame depends on luck or connections. Being famous is not in my hands, so I don’t think about it. I think about self improvement and the quality one has.
Is it important to maintain an appearance on stage, or do you think talent is all a musician needs for success?
I think music is the most important thing on the stage! But the appearance is also important because it’s in the end performing arts.
With an intense schedule of performances, how do you maintain a work-life balance?
I practise a lot before a concert, maybe 4-5 months, and after that I will give myself one month of doing nothing. I’ll enjoy life, think about life, or this whole process wouldn’t work for me. My music will suffer without a break. When I have a vacation, I especially enjoy walking and spending time with my dog.
What is your advice for aspiring musicians?
To be true to music and your heart.
What can Dubai expect from you this weekend?
Everyone thinks and feels differently, so I would just say come, close your eyes and feel. I wish my audience this time in Abu Dhabi could feel the most inner and deep emotion of Franz Schubert through his amazing sonatas!
Ran Jia recently performed at the Abu Dhabi Theatre as part of the Abu Dhabi Classics.