Israel-based concert pianist and model from Canada Tianyu Zhou has been capturing our attention on Instagram for some time now. In this interview, this star on the rise shares her thoughts and feelings on the worlds of both classical music and fashion – and everything in between.
Mordents Magazine: Hello Tianyu, how are you? How have you been spending your time recently?
Tianyu Zhou: I am not too bad! I think at this point I am already used to the pandemic and I know how to deal with things better than when the pandemic just started. Currently, I have zoom classes, I practice and luckily I have lessons with my most beloved professor Arie Vardi whom I respect and adore very much. I go on set when I have photoshoots and commercial shoots. I have time to chill with my good friends, we chat, we make nice food and drink wine. What else… I watch Netflix, read sometimes and try to keep up with my daily workout routine.
MM: Any hobbies you enjoy doing or new talents you discovered lately?
TZ: I love watching movies – especially independent and arthouse films. I have a regular workout routine and I enjoy dancing hiphop very much. For new talents… thanks to Covid-19 I finally know how to cook properly. I used to hate cooking a lot… my way of “making food” before Covid was to just make a simple salad or sandwich where it doesn’t require using a pan or pot haha… but now I am proud of myself for being able to cook well.
MM: Where would you like to travel first once the pandemic is over? And why?
TZ: I would probably want to go back home to visit my mother and hang out with my close friends in Canada. I miss them a lot and I didn’t have the chance to see them for more than a year which is very unusual for me. The second choice would be having a spontaneous trip either to Paris, London, Florence or LA because I love the vibe and atmosphere in each city.
MM: What would you change about classical music industry?
TZ: Less politics which is probably difficult to avoid… more opportunities for musicians to express their voices – not only through their instruments.
MM: How would you grow classical music audience?
TZ: Play concerts, create opportunities to have interactions with my audiences, Instagram and Youtube.
MM: What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your biography alone?
TZ: I am not sure… really… besides being a musician, I have quite a lot of other interests and things that I do… so it is difficult to say. Perhaps … I also love acting a lot. I had training at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts and still take classes from take to time (online now).
MM: Do you play some other instruments? If not piano, what instrument would you choose?
TZ: I played violin in grade 6 in school and I also played a bit of drum in a high school band. As for now… if I have the chance, I would love to learn cello because I love this instrument so much, the sonority and projection of sound, the tone, the colour, there is so much about this instrument that I am fond of.
MM: Do you play music other than classical? If yes, what kind?
TZ: I like to improvise a lot on the piano. I love creating different colours, a variety of moods and emotions without any restraint. I had the opportunity to improvise for a Chinese Drama “Forty-Nine Days·Memorial” directed by Zhang Li. I was given a few episodes to watch beforehand to know the story, the mood, the emotions, the sparks and my feelings towards the drama to build my thoughts. I love the process of it. The best thing about it was…there was absolutely no score and I feel so free to improvise my ideas on the keyboard. One thing I wish to play is jazz.
MM: Favourite/Least favourite composers? And why?
TZ: My favourite composers are J. S. Bach and R. Schumann. I have always been very close to Bach’s music since I was very young. People tend to find his music hard to play at a young age but it was very natural and easy for me. I think his music is very modern and way ahead of his time. I never really struggle with Bach, his music always fits me like a glove naturally.
I also love Schumann very much. His music always leads me into another zone, a different sphere. His music is crazy, personal, innovative, complex, so much story that it is very difficult to describe by words. I think his music requires us to have intuition, imagination and spontaneity.
I don’t think I have a least favourite composer… I probably just don’t play them as much… I think Chopin is the least comfortable for me to play because his music is simply difficult, in all kinds of ways.
MM: When you play the piece that you’re tired of (due to practice and frequent performance), how do you approach that emotionally? Does that piece still make you feel something? Which piece was that?
TZ: There are a lot of pieces that I need to pick up or come back to, whether it’s for competitions or concerts. I either pick the pieces up very fast in a few days/week or prepare them ahead then drop it for a short while and again come back to it before my performances to keep it fresh.
MM: What achievement are you most proud of?
TZ: Performing J. S. Bach Goldberg Variations first half joint with other programs in the second half internationally. It was very demanding but I love to challenge myself and I did it. I was also very honoured to be invited to perform at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland for both President and the First Lady of China and Poland. I have never had a performance where I had to go through so many security checks haha… I was also very happy when I knew I was accepted to attend the Lucerne Piano Festival Masterclass a few years ago as they only accepted eight pianists worldwide.
MM: How do you prepare mentally for Chopin Competition?
TZ: It’s important to mentally prepare for something immense and important because nothing can go ahead of your Brain. Besides practicing of course, I read about Chopin, I try not to over practice and read the score and try to have a fresh mindset. I am happy that I could still find new things in some Chopin pieces that I have been playing for years.
MM: Are you nervous? What do you expect?
TZ: Usually I am not too nervous when I play concerts but because it is Chopin Competition so perhaps my blood will circulate faster haha… but really it depends on the day — how I feel, what time of the day I will be playing, my surroundings and etc
MM:What are you going to wear?
TZ: Either a classy simple black dress or a jumpsuit and black YSL heels which have been my must wear for almost all my concerts.
MM: What are you generally most afraid that could happen during live performance?
TZ: This is a question that actually never really occurred to me before…to be honest, I am quite fearless when I walk up onto the stage to perform because I know I am well prepared. I think there is no point to be afraid of anything because — whatever happens on the stage happens. Sometimes you can’t control it… When it comes to noise from the audience, I would be lying if I said “I am not annoyed or bothered by this at all” but – in a live concert, anything could happen, it’s normal.
MM: How do you cope with negative reviews on your playing (both online and offline)?
TZ: Well… I think it depends on how to take it, I usually cope quite well with them. If the negative review is in a way helpful, then sure I will take it into consideration but if it’s just rude, aggressive and hurtful for no reason then it’s no point to give a damn or care about it.
MM: You are also a model. How did that happen?
TZ: I was shopping for lipstick at MAC in Tel Aviv and their senior makeup artist Netta Szekely, who by the way is one of the most amazing makeup artists I have ever worked with happened to be there on that day helping to choose a lipstick and scouted me. I remember the first thing she asked me was “are you a model?”
MM: Tell us a bit more about your modelling experience.
TZ: I absolutely love modelling and I think I am very lucky because I have always loved fashion and cosmetics so much and being able to step into this field without asking for it is just amazing, I am very thankful. I have been featured on fashion magazines and some of the brands that I have worked for/with are MAC, Natasha Denona, Biopeptix, Artlist Ltd and more. I have also been featured in commercials that have been broadcasted across Europe on TV and internet.
MM: How do you balance music with these obligations?
TZ: Time management is very important, as long as I know what I need to finish within a certain time frame then it’s all good.
I will give you an example of how my day would be like with both photoshoot and practice — I usually wake up around 5:30 am to prepare for my shoots where I would drink dark roast black coffee or Americano (no milk & sugar) then I would put on a face mask and do a simple 15 min workout. Sometimes I wish I could wake up slightly later but my face tends to be a bit swollen in the morning so it takes time for the coffee to kick in to help me to reduce my swollen face haha. Then I go on set… I tend to arrive around 8 A.M to start off with makeup and hair. The shootings usually take about 6-10 hours, it really depends on how many looks we need to accomplish on the day. Let’s say the shoot finishes around 4 PM, at latest 6PM… by this time I am already drained out but I would still force myself to go to the academy to practice for at least 2 hours. Then really.. by the end of the day, the only thing I want to see is my bed haha.
MM:Do you think that unique fashion is important for a classical musician?
TZ: I think this really depends on a person’s interest. Because I am also in the fashion field, I feel that it is quite important to have your own style – a dress code that could represent who you are as a person whether it’s on a daily basis or on the stage. This probably doesn’t refer to everyone but sometimes you can kind of tell the personality and the temperament of a person when you see their style of clothing.
What’s your personal style?
TZ: My “go to” daily look is a pair of good jeans with a nice shirt. I barely wear dresses… My style is quite simple in a classy, cool and chill way. I usually pair up my outfit with sneakers, sometimes ankle boots. I love accessories such as caps, sunglasses and scarves.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Good wine, Cuban cigarillos, dark roast coffee and cheese.
Choose a karaoke song you’d sing
Mmm… I haven’t been to karaoke for way too long so I am not sure what I would choose now but I would probably choose a song by Alicia Keys, Adele or Jay Chou.
Do you listen to other music than classical? What kind?
I am a big fan of hiphop and R&B music. I also like jazz.
Musical icons and influences?
For classical music, I was influenced a lot by Martha Argerich and Glenn Gould.
Favourite non-popular piano pieces?
Chopin’s Boléro is not played often compared to his other well-known pieces… but it is one of my favourite compositions of his.
What orchestral work would you love to conduct?
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, 3 and 4.
If not a musician, what else would you love to be?
Actress or a fashion designer.
Favourite fashion designer(s)
Karl Lagerfeld and Anthony Vaccarello
My current favourites are Coco Rocha, Irina Shayk, Liu Wen…
MM: What are some of your current goals, both when it comes to modeling and performing?
TZ: At this point, especially during Covid-19, I am not thinking too far… I would like to achieve what is in front of me and complete them as well as I can.