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2021 Chopin Foundation Scholarship - Lillian Feng

Arcadia High School’s very own Lillian Feng is one of the honorary winners of the 2021 Chopin Foundation Scholarship. The organization, founded in 1975, aims to assist young and talented pianists excel in their careers while making classical music accessible to all. The scholarship is open to American pianists between the ages of 14 and 17, making Lillian, 15, one of the younger scholarship recipients. We interviewed Lillian in order to congratulate her hard-earned scholarship and discover more about her piano playing background.

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When did you start playing the piano?

I started playing the piano when I was 4 years old. I also started playing the violin at age 5. It’s been 11 years, I still play them both.

What made you drawn to the piano?

I’ve always loved the ringing sound and feel of the piano. Oftentimes I find it easier to express my emotions in piano playing rather than words; it’s a diary, therapist and best friend. I love the rich harmonies and the infinite repertoire. The piano is a whole orchestra with 88 keys.

How did you decide to apply for the Chopin Foundation Scholarship?

I was motivated to apply because I love Chopin’s music and wanted an opportunity to showcase my interpretations. I also found out that the US Chopin Foundation prepares young pianists through the scholarship program for the national competition in Miami. My dream is to hopefully someday perform on the international stage in Poland.

What piece did you play in order to win the scholarship? Do you have a favorite part in the piece(s)?

I played five works of Frederic Chopin:

  1. Etude Op. 10 No. 1

  2. Etude Op. 10 No. 5 “Black Keys”

  3. Nocturne in c minor Op. 48 No. 1

  4. Nocturne in F major Op. 15 No. 1

  5. Ballade No. 1 in g minor, Op. 23

I adore all five pieces, but if I had to choose, the opening of the c minor Nocturne is absolutely heart-wrenching. The left hand heaves like a funeral march with each step increasingly more difficult to take, while the legato in the right hand sorrowfully croons over the march. It’s a somber picture, but when in music, it is a beauty. That’s what I love about Chopin: he is a colorful painter with his black ink and staff lines, and his canvas is our ears.

What do you think was the key to you winning?

Good question! Based on the adjudicators’ comments, I think my performance captured the essence of Chopin’s music, from the singing melodic line and moody dynamic contrasts to the deep outlined harmonies. I am glad my performance made an impact.

It is your first year and you are one of the younger winners in this competition. How do you feel?

One word: HONORED. Even now, it still feels a little surreal. As a newcomer to the national platform, I was, and still am, determined to give it my all, knowing the intense competition I would face. I am honored to be recognized as demonstrating excellence in the music I love most.

Do you have a favorite genre of music you prefer playing?

I love playing all different kinds of genres, but my heart will always lie with classical. It amazes me that music written 500 years ago is still widely played today, and rightfully so. Some other genres I like playing are improvisation, world, and pop.

This is a hard one. Piano or violin?

Haha! I do spend more time on piano – probably because I get to sit down, and because I enjoy the aspect of playing mostly solo repertoire. Both instruments have their own unique qualities. While I love the ringing and colorful voices of the piano, I also love the warm and vibrant tone of the violin. Playing the violin helps me play piano and grasp the idea of the singing melodic line. Two is better than one!

A warm thank you to Lillian for agreeing to do an interview with us. Congratulations on your scholarship, and we wish you all the best in your future musical career!

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