New Classical Tracks: Pianist Wei Luo explores themes of war and death on solo debut

20 November 2019

Wei Luo — Wei Luo (Decca Gold)

"I wasn't a very extroverted person when I was young, and I liked to use my music as a way to communicate with others. I think I was more brave in music than I was in real life."

Wei Luo is brave in real life. She was born in the southern part of China. She's been studying at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia for the past three years. Last year, much to her surprise and delight, she received the 2018 Gilmore Young Artist Award. At age 20, she recently released her solo debut. It's a self-titled recording with a powerful theme exploring war and death.


I'm very excited to talk about how you put this together, but first I want to know a little bit about you and how the piano became such an important form of expression for you.

"Actually, I'm the only child in my whole family who learned music. My parents loved to play music CDs at my apartment. At a very young age, my mom took me to see Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, the ballets. And I've really loved Russian music since then."

What was it about that Russian music that really resonated with you?

"I think the melodies are especially beautiful and really touching. I tried to learn ballet, but it didn't work out. Then I learned music."

So, instead you're doing ballet on the keyboard, huh?

"Exactly. I went to kindergarten around four years old. There was one upright piano in each classroom. The teacher used to play piano for the kids. I was so amazed by the sound. Later, she and my father gave me a small upright piano as a gift for my fifth birthday. That's where everything started."

The theme of this recording is very powerful — war and death. That seems like a pretty intense theme for a debut recording. How did you come to that conclusion?

"I realized the pieces on my debut album are somewhat related to war and death, such as Ravel's La Valse. It's a memory of the great Viennese culture, but everything was devastated after World War One. It's a very dark, but beautiful, piece."

How does the Haydn Piano Sonata in E-flat Major fit into this theme of war and death?

"That's a good question. I think, if everything is about war, this is the only piece that represents all the wonderful stuff that's not related to war."

There is a contemporary Russian composer featured on this recording — Rodion Shchedrin. Why did you choose to feature two of his pieces on this recording?

"First of all, because they're fun. And, also, I just want to introduce the audience to some more more Russian composers.

"Shchedrin was considered one of the most important composers after Shostakovich. This piece, especially the second second short piece on this album by Shchedrin, is called Bass Ostinato, so you can hear the constant lefthand octaves going on, and the right hand is trying to create a mysterious sound, still like war."

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.