Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I’m not sure there was ever a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a performing musician—ever since the age of four I was telling my parents that I wanted to be on the stage in Lincoln Center. However, I can probably attribute my determination and commitment to pursuing a professional career in music to my first few major competitions. They happened when I was around eleven years old, and though I didn’t win any of them, something clicked for me when I found myself on a beautiful stage with a beautiful instrument bringing people something that they loved as well as revelling in it myself.
As for people who have been my biggest influences, I really would not be who I am today if it weren’t for my teachers. From my very first teachers to those I work with now, they have all left their very impressionable fingerprints on the way I approach music. And, of course, my parents—I would be nowhere without them.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
As I’m currently establishing my career in music, I’ve found challenges in loving both singing and playing piano. I was always under the impression that there was no way I could do both, that one day I would have to choose. After all, one of the first questions I get as soon as people find out I am both a soprano and pianist is always along the lines of “If you had to choose one, what would it be?”. But, slowly, I am finding a path for myself to share my love of both vocal and piano music to audiences. What that looks like now is developing concert programs that explore and tie together aspects of these two very expansive repertoires.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I just recently recorded my debut album, “Chopin: In My Voice”, which will be released by Orchid Classics on June 18, 2021. I’m proud of that one, not just because of its content, but because making it taught me so much about how I want to develop as an artist. I also recently programmed a concert that included Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” as well as “Frauenliebe und Leben”. I personally loved performing those works as they represented somewhere I’ve been — childhood — and somewhere that still sits on the horizon for me — the beauty of love and motherhood. I perform these pieces a certain way now, but I hope to return to this program in future years and look forward to seeing how it will evolve and grow with me as I go through different chapters of my life.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I think living my everyday life is what provides inspiration for the music that I perform. I really believe that the music of all composers is drawn from their own experiences and humanity, and I’d like to think that they would ask me to do the same. While I find it very interesting to read about their lives, thought processes, and sources of inspiration, I’ve been learning that, like acting, trying to fit yourself into someone else’s narrative is not always as effective as drawing from your own. The beautiful things in life are beautiful no matter what—whether it’s the sunshine on an exotic island for Chopin or the blooms of the dogwood tree in my backyard for me. The same goes for everything else that is expressed in music: we have all experienced them in different ways.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I choose my repertoire based on a combination of what I need for certain performances and pieces that I am eager to explore. Generally, there are a few larger core pieces that I know I want or need to perform, and since I love to make programmes that excite me, I look for others that tie together with interesting connections.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
Through my years of doing community outreach, I have found that some of my most excited and passionate audience members have been children who are exposed to classical music for the first time. I definitely think that expanding classical music audiences comes down to people understanding that it’s not as unrelated to them as they might think. There is so much in classical music that speaks for the universal human experience. I think, if classical music is taught and introduced to younger generations in this way, rather than as an outdated art form written by and enjoyed by people who seem irrelevant to them, so many more people would learn to love it. I really enjoy seeing that the classical music field is beginning to celebrate lesser-known composers who may have been placed on the back burner for a variety of reasons, and that it is also opening up to more unconventional but interesting ways of presenting classical music.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
My most memorable concert experience has to be my performances at the National Chopin Competition. While not really traditional concerts, my time on that stage was truly something I had never experienced before in my young career. My music-making there felt so genuine to what I wanted to express, despite the competition atmosphere.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
The times I have felt the most successful are when audience members have come up to me and openly shared the feelings, memories, and stories that my performance evoked in them. In those moments, my heart has always been filled with gratitude that I am able to share those moments with them, and that I contributed to that at all.
Chelsea Guo’s Chopin: In My Voice is released on 18 June on the Orchid Classics label
A top prize-winner in the 2020 National Chopin Piano Competition, Chelsea Guo has earned praise for her “thoughtful performance” and as “a fine Chopin stylist” (South Florida Classical Review). She is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Music in piano at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Hung-Kuan Chen and studying voice with Lorraine Nubar. Her solo piano and concerto performances have taken her to Carnegie Hall and Wigmore Hall as well as prominent venues throughout the United States, England, Austria, France, Poland, Italy, Germany, China, Japan, and Canada. In 2019, she was featured on WQXR’s “Young Artist Showcase” in a full hour of solo piano and vocal performance.
From an early age, Ms. Guo was drawn to singing. She has increasingly included vocal selections in her piano programmes, often displaying the influence that singers had on composers of their time. Having debuted as a pianist with the Tianjin Symphony Orchestra at age nine, Guo returned in 2018 as vocal soloist under the baton of Maestro Muhai Tang. She has been recognised for her vocal gifts as a 2019 National YoungArts Winner, the first prize winner in the 2019 Schmidt Voice Competition, and recipient of scholarships from the George London and Gerda Lissner foundations.