For YuYing Chen, winning the 19th International Harp Contest in Israel is the culmination of years of dedication to her craft. For many it launches a career, but for her it is a Crowning Achievement.
—by Sunita Staneslow; photos courtesy International Harp Contest in Israel
YuYing Chen was already a world-class harpist before winning the 19th International Harp Contest in Israel. She landed the principal harp position with the Shanghai Symphony eight years ago, just after graduating from the Shanghai Conservatory. She also has taken the top prize at competitions around the world, including both the 2006 Concours International de Harpe in Lille, France, and the 2009 International Harp Competition “Golden Harp” in St. Petersburg, Russia. Despite all of her success and accolades, winning in Israel is a crowning achievement for YuYing, as it is for any harpist. But this victory was even sweeter for YuYing, because she was also competing against the clock—this was the last Israel Contest she could enter before she exceeded the competition’s age limit of 35. We talked to YuYing at the Contest and then again via Skype in Shanghai.
Harp Column: Congratulations! You are a beautiful musician. Your harp sparkled, and you were the audience’s favorite during the finals. You won the heart of the Israelis!
YuYing Chen: Thank you. I like to express music from my heart. I never try to play forte here or piano there, I just follow my heart. I tell a story when I play and let the audience enjoy the music.
HC: You looked so calm and poised when you competed. You were even smiling. What is your secret to handling the pressure?
YC: Just before walking out on stage, I would tell the volunteers, “Let’s have fun; let it be.” I never thought about the competition, only about performing the four concerts. I often play the wrong notes or forget the music, but I know that they are only little things that always happen. I think the music in my heart is more important, not all these small details. I want to inspire the audience and let them enjoy the concert and relax, or follow my expression. It is very simple and obvious for me to share the music in this way. When I make a mistake, I just let it go and move forward. I can’t be a machine. I am also human!
HC: Please tell us a bit about your background. When did you start harp lessons and why?