As a child perplexed watching her cousins groan during piano practice, Mei Yi Foo’s curiosity led her to tinkle with the ivories herself, fine-tuning a skill that has won her a legion of fans and accolades that include being named the BBC’s Music Magazine Awards Best Newcomer of the Year (2013). The talented London-based concert pianist who has played with notable orchestras from the BBC Concert Orchestra to the Helsinki Philharmonic tells Travel 3Sixty how her Malaysian roots have coloured her performances.
Words : Chitra S
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN MUSIC?
We had a piano at my grandparents’ place belonging to my cousins. While they hated to practise, I took to it naturally, picking out tunes I heard from the radio and TV, and also the songs my father used to sing while playing the guitar. My love of music began from observing others play, and also from my parents’ interest in music that included Elvis and the Beatles!
AT WHAT AGE DID YOU DECIDE YOU WERE GOING TO BE A MUSICIAN?
I must have been 11 or 12 when I used to wake up early in the morning just to read new scores, happily ploughing away at 5.00am, playing concertos and sonatas. Sufﬁce to say, my neighbours weren’t so happy.
WHY WAS THE PIANO YOUR CHOICE OF INSTRUMENT?
Relatively speaking, the spectrum of a piano is limitless.
HOW DID YOU PURSUE YOUR DREAM ON THE WORLD STAGE?
I worked hard, in fact, I still do. At times, the journey was so arduous, I felt like banging my head against the wall, but I believe if you keep at it, the wall may one day give in, as it did for me, ﬁguratively speaking.
WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED AS A YOUNG PIANIST TRYING TO MAKE A NAME FOR YOURSELF IN THE CLASSICAL MUSIC SCENE?
Being a young, Asian female musician does not always give you authority in a ﬁeld dominated traditionally by Western men. The challenges are manifold, whereby I have to prove myself time and again to various degrees.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THOSE CHALLENGES AND WIN THE BBC’S ‘BEST NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR AWARD’?
I reminded myself to keep at it to the best of my ability, and to be as honest as I could for the music. Being acknowledged as BBC’s ‘Best Newcomer of the Year’ is important to me, not just because it is an invaluable endorsement of the recording project that I am proud of, but also for the immense encouragement it gives me to forge ahead, playing and creating with fearless commitment.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE NAMED ‘THE PIANIST TO WATCH’ BY BBC RADIO 3?
I am always grateful to receive positive reviews, awards and prizes for my work, but I am also grateful to those who have provided constructive criticism along my musical trajectory. Fortunately, I learnt very quickly to take reviews, bad or good, in my stride.
HAVE YOUR MALAYSIAN ROOTS INFLUENCED YOUR MUSICAL STYLE?
I’m unsure if there is a direct Malaysian inﬂuence in the classical works I play. However, I am sure the multifaceted entity of Malaysia, with its plethora of colours has allowed me to give much diversity in my performances.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE COMPOSER OR PIECE OF MUSIC?
I have neither an all-time favourite composer nor a favourite piece of music. I tend to dwell deeply on what I play in the moment, and fall in love constantly with different composers and masterpieces.
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
People with great creativity inspire me. The stranger, the better!
ALBUMS BY MEI YI FOO
For more information on Mei Yi Foo, visit www.meiyifoo.com