Malaysian-born, Beijing-based concert pianist Claudia Yang is Malaysian at heart and still gets goose bumps whenever she hears the national anthem.
Ask Malaysians abroad what do they miss most about Malaysia and they are likely to tell you it is the Malaysian food.
Claudia Yang (pic) shared in a recent interview that she makes sure to tuck into char kuey teow, chee cheong fun, laksa and durians whenever she returns home.
The 39-year-old Yang (nee Teoh Gay Hoon) has been abroad since she was 17 to pursue her love for music.
She began learning piano at the age of five and sat for the Grade 8 exam when she was 12.
“My mum said she listened to Elvis Presley while she was pregnant, so perhaps I got my early music education from Elvis,” she said.
After completing her SRP (Sijil Pelajaran Rendah, now PMR or Penilaian Menengah Rendah), Yang travelled from her hometown in Muar, Johor to Kuala Lumpur to study German for three months.
Then she left for Vienna to study under Prof Dianko Iliew and enrolled into the University of Music and Performing Arts in 1993. Prof Badura-Skoda picked her as his student.
The following year, Yang went to Ukraine to study under Orysia Sterniuk, and returned to Vienna to study under Prof Ludwig Hoffman.
After graduating in 1997 as joint best pianist of the year, she married Chinese national Yang Lingyang and moved to Hungary, where her twin daughters were born.
The family settled down in Beijing since 2000. She divides her time between Beijing and Europe for performances.
What is Yang’s response to curious query about her nationality when she performs around the world?
She straightened up and answered with a hint of pride, “Malaysian”.
Clearly, she still holds her homeland close to her heart.
“I get goose bumps whenever I hear our national anthem, Negaraku,” she said, brushing her arms to illustrate her point.
To date, Yang has an album under her belt. The CD comprises pieces composed by Chinese contemporary composer Ge Deyue.
“The main reason I am a little slow in producing CD is that I am always not satisfied with myself. I would record and think I would do better next month, or next year.
“I don’t want to be satisfied with myself, thinking I am already good enough. I want to give the best to my listeners,” she said.
She still practises eight hours a day, in two or three sessions, to perfect her skills.
To protect her fingers, Yang stays away from sports like golf, badminton and volleyball, except for swimming.
She also avoids cracking her knuckles – and forbids masseuses from touching her fingers during occasional spa sessions – but she cooks and does house chores.
Yang recently performed a solo recital at Winland International Finance Centre in Beijing to commemorate the 39th anniversary of the establishment of the China-Malaysia diplomatic relations.
Organised by the Malaysian Embassy and Beijing Winland Real Estate Co Ltd chairman Adam Yu, the event saw Yang playing on a Faxioli grand piano measuring 3.08m.
It is named Nessun Dorma (Italian for None Shall Sleep) after an aria from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot.
While pianos usually have three pedals, this piano has an extra fourth pedal. When pressed, the keys will drop to a lower position to produce a softer sound.
Besides classical music from Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmani-noff and Chinese tunes like Jasmine Flower, Yang introduced the audience to Lagenda, a song written in tribute to Tan Sri P. Ramlee.
As her fingers danced across the piano keys, the melodious tune reverberated through the hall and captured the hearts of the audience.
Prior to this performance at Winland, Yang had just had her first public performance in Malaysia during the 1Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism Festival 2013.
The opportunity arose when she was introduced to Malaysian Tou-rism Promotion Board chairman Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen earlier.
Plans to cooperate with the Tourism Board next year for Visit Malaysia Year 2014 are also in the pipeline.
In an interview with StarMetro journalist Yasmin Ahmad Kamil, Yang said more opportunities are needed for budding musicians in Malaysia.
“There is a need to provide a platform for performers. There are many talented pianists in Malaysia but there aren’t many opportunities for them,” she said.
Yang, who sits as a jury member at the International Chopin Compe-tition for Young Pianists in Moscow since 2011, explained that competitions are one way to discover and develop young talented pianists.
“There should be more piano competitions or more scholarship opportunities for students to study music overseas. The country can also get foreigners to come and do exchange programmes, or hold festivals for top young pianists and musicians to play.”
As for herself, she is open to the idea of returning home one day.
“I will consider moving back to Malaysia when more chances open up, or maybe retire there,” she said.
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