Vancouver-raised new music ‘monster pianist’ Vicky Chow returns to her hometown as she embraces her acoustic piano roots and performs Philip Glass’ Piano Études, Book 1.
This homecoming brings back a wealth of positive emotions for Chow. Since moving to New York in 2001, she welcomes every opportunity to return, and Vancouver is more than happy to host. But how did this new music superstar get to shine so bright?
Finding her voice, new music and beyond
At the age of five, a curious Vicky Chow was hanging out with her 15-year-old sister who had asked her parents for piano lessons. Chow remembers how she would sit in on her sister’s lessons and absorb everything like a sponge.
“I would pick things up by ear and start playing,” Chow recalls.
This was how she learned until her parents asked the teacher if she was too young to start lessons, and that’s how it all began.
Her passion for the piano quickly became apparent, and she performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at age 10. She always knew that she wanted to go to New York and study at the Juilliard School of Music and got her wish in 2001.
“Music is my life!” says Chow. “I cannot imagine being anything other than a musician. It’s my whole identity. It’s my voice!”
Chow shares how personal music is to her. In real life, she says she is a quiet and shy person, but, when she is on stage, she feels like she can really be herself.
The move to New York opened up a whole new world for Chow, and she questioned why she was playing the same music that every other student was playing at school. Since then she has dedicated the past 15 years of her career to performing the works of living composers.
“I was a little bit lost at that time, and I could feel the fire and the passion returning. That was the moment I realized what I wanted to do,” she says. “After Juilliard, a contemporary performance programme opened up at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, and I never looked back.”
During the second year of her masters programme, the Bang on the Can music organization had an opening in their ensemble for a pianist.
“I got to sit in with the band and make chamber music together and that was really thrilling,” Chow says.
After her audition, Bang on a Can asked Chow to perform with them in a New York concert. In 2009, they asked Chow to join them on a fall tour. Shortly afterwards, she joined the Bang on a Can All-Stars, where she has been a member ever since.
Chow first met composer Philip Glass at a Bang on a Can marathon extravaganza and describes him as a prominent father figure of minimalism.
“I actually got to share a piano with him on stage,” Chow recollects. “We got to play piano four hands together with the ensemble, which was very exciting. All I could think was, ‘Don’t mess up Vicky. Don’t mess up!’”
In 2018, Glass invited Chow to perform with him and three other pianists at the Winnipeg new music festival. They performed all 20 of Glass’s Études split among the five pianists.
“Each one of the pieces conveys an aspect of the piano that I don’t think any other composer has written previously. I was compelled to learn all of the Études,” Chow explains.
Having previously focused on more technical pieces by composers such as Tristan Perich and Michael Gordon, Chow felt like she needed music that helped her explore the other side of her playing.
“I wanted to focus more on the emotion and the expression in my musical playing and the Glass Études gave me the opportunity to explore that further,” Chow says.
The future of music
“Music is my identity. It’s my way of expressing myself. I really believe that music does heal on a very fundamental level. It has sustained me, and I really do hope it continues to sustain other people in the future,” Chow reflects.
Music brings together different people and cultures, and Chow sees this as a way for people to have a conversation. Music is a platform for relationships, allowing the connection of different people and different parts of the world.
You can see Chow perform as part of Music on Main at Christ Church Cathedral on March 28th –