Top pianist Tony Yike Yang performs in Nairobi SundayFriday May 26 2023
Just over a year ago, one of the world’s most accomplished young pianists was browsing through his Instagram feed when his attention was caught by a video posted by a Kenyan ensemble known as the Chamber Music Kenya
The sheer delight in watching this clip of a performance in Nairobi prompted him to immediately reach out to them to learn a little more about the classical music scene in Kenya.
“I thought it would be interesting to explore classical music in Nairobi and share the joy of music inspired by their mission,” says Canadian pianist Tony Yike Yang in an interview with BD Life via Zoom from Sweden where he is currently based.
“He sent us a Direct Message on social media and we were excited about his interest because he is a professional pianist who is in another league, plus he has an impressive resume with several top international piano awards,” violinist and founder of Chamber Music Kenya, Ken Mwiti recalls.
And so began a conversation towards organising a trip for Yang to perform in Kenya.
The initial plan to have him perform in Nairobi last year didn’t work out due to the disruption caused by the elections.
He will now stage his maiden concert in the country at Kenton College, Nairobi on Sunday, May 28, 2023.
He has arranged a repertoire from the virtuoso piano music of the Romantic period but he is also adding some new pieces to his programme which according to him shall consist of shorter delights, rather than long sombre pieces.
“I am offering variety and not too complicated repertoire for the audience to enjoy,” he says.
The concert programme consists of Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in F Major Hob. XVI:23, Franz Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B Minor, S. 171, Ballade No 1 in G Minor Op. 23 and Scherzo No 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31 by Frederic Chopin, two pieces by Sergei Prokofiev, Sonata No 2 in D Minor, Op. 75 and Selections from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75
One of the highlights of the concert will be a collaboration between Yang and Mwiti in performing the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No 5 in F-Major (Spring Sonata) which is a work composed for violin and piano.
“I studied this piece for my ABRSM Grade 8 violin examination in 2018 so I have a very personal connection to the music,” says Mwiti.
“This is all part of an experiment in collaboration and we are keen to see that it works out,” he adds.
The 24-year-old Yang who was born in Chongqing, China and raised in Toronto, Canada, started piano studies at the age of 5 with his mother as his first teacher.
He attained international acclaim at the age of 16 after becoming the youngest-ever laureate in the history of the International Chopin Piano Competition, winning the fifth prize in 2015.
He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada from 2008 to 2014. In 2022 he graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics.
“I like the possibility of meeting new people because that enriches your experience and I am a firm believer in diversity,” he says in response to a question on his field of academic study.
He has performed in over 25 countries across 5 continents, in prestigious venues like the Carnegie Hall in New York, Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Guangzhou Opera House in China and the Millennium Amphitheatre at Expo2000 Dubai.
The Chamber Music Kenya was founded by Mwiti in 2020 and their first concert was at Muthaiga Country Club in 2021.
“The concept revolves around a small number of musicians playing to a small audience in an intimate venue,” says Mwiti.
“We hope to catch the attention of investors through pushing the cultural aspect and therefore creating jobs,” says the 29-year-old who is currently studying for an MBA in Art Entrepreneurship.
“After more than 10 years performing with orchestras and at weddings, I knew that this can’t be an end goal sitting at home and waiting to be called for a performance. You must put yourself on stage,” says Mwiti.
He explains that Chamber Music Kenya has a long-term goal of developing the careers of musicians through collaborations, master classes and inviting Tony Yike Yang is an opportunity to see first-hand that you can make a career in music.
Yang who is committed to promoting classical music education for youth across the world will also conduct a master class at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music during his tour.
“It is really about sharing experiences, how the technical aspects of piano playing can enable young musicians to attain different possibilities. I am here to share some technical skills and generally offer a wider palate for classical music,” he says.