Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a pianist-composer?
Keith Jarrett, Tigran Hamasyan, Bill Laurance, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
It’s been an interesting experience to evolve from a classical pianist performing repertoire to a pianist-composer performing original work.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
For me, the greatest pleasure comes from hearing a new commission coming alive with performers, and seeing the impact my piece has on performers and audiences.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?
I really enjoy the chance to work with a range of musicians and ensembles; I enjoy learning from fellow musicians and am constantly inspired by their responses. Highlights from 2022 that I really enjoyed include writing for BBC Concert Orchestra, playing my original works with BBC Philharmonic, working on a soundtrack with a fashion designer and experimenting with classical guitar and effects with Dimitris Soukaras, a brilliant guitarist from Greece. I enjoy getting to know the diversity of artistic personalities – it’s a very nice experience.
Of which works are you most proud?
Every piece is special, but I’d have to say I’m very excited about the project I’m currently in the final stages of finishing. This is a set of original compositions scored for felt piano, synths, electric piano, electronics, erhu, and string orchestra and the first I’ve written specifically with immersive audio technology in mind. As recording is complete and I’m starting on the post-production, I’m very excited to see this come to life and I can’t wait to share this with my audience.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
My music is a blend of contemporary classical, jazz, world, and experimental genres. Fluid, it travels between these soundworlds freely to present a coherent artistic expression.
How do you work?
When I write, I often begin by improvising at the piano. Even when writing specifically for other instruments, my first instinct is to find the vibe, harmonic progression, and form on the piano – before moving to paper to complete the process.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
For my music to be part of the soundtrack to as many people’s lives as possible across the world.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Everyone’s path in music will be different – embrace your own way forward.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I think access to music and music education in schools is extremely important to develop future audiences for music of any genre. Social media is also an effective method to reach audiences around the world too.
What is your present state of mind?
Belle Chen Live at The Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London, Tuesday 4 April. Info/tickets
With a musical style that is as uncategorisable it is captivating, Pianist and Composer, Belle Chen’s music is a curious blend of classical, avant-garde, world, electronica, and sound art genres. Her approach to music is unpredictable, often bringing to the audience an element of surprise, yet she retains the tonal aesthetic of classical and neo-classical language in midst of textures drawn from experimental, avant-garde, and world genres.
Chen first gained attention in UK’s art music scene with her self-released EP ‘Listen, London’ in 2014, in which she juxtaposed classical repertoire with field recordings taken around London. Self-released albums Mediterranean Sounds (2016), Mademoiselle (2017), Departure (2019) and Destinations (2020) followed – each with a distinct artistic vision – and earning Chen plaudits from industry heavyweights including Brian Eno (“original and provocative”), James Rhodes (“hugely impressive”), Max Reinhardt (“a revelation”), and BBC Radio 3 (Top 4 Best New Music of 2016 BBC Introducing).