Niu Niu: The Pianist’s Journey
An Interview on His New Album and Upcoming Performances

Niu Niu is a talented young pianist who has been performing on stage since the age of 6. This month, a new album featuring a live collaboration between Niu Niu and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by maestro Jaap Van Zweden, has been released. The album includes Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 6. In this article, I am sharing the conversation I had with Niu Niu regarding the new release and his coming performances and projects.

Pianist Niu Niu

Niu Niu © Universal Music Group

Can you share with us your working relationship with maestro Jaap Van Zweden and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra?

The first time that I worked with them was back in 2015, and coincidentally that time, I also performed Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with them. After all these years, I’m so happy that I can collaborate with them again on this repertoire for a live recording album. This is certainly one of the most memorable experiences for me. I also collaborated with them once in 2021, playing number 2 (Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto), and so this time for the live recording. It was the third time that I collaborated with them, but it was my first time to collaborate with maestro Jaap Van Zweden. I have a wonderful relationship with all the members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic and even personal friendships with most of the members.

The album live recorded your performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in 2022. How was the recording experience? This is a very well-known piano concerto, and you played it really beautifully. What do you like about this piece?

Niu Niu collaborated with HK Phil and maestro Jaap van Zweden

Niu Niu collaborated with HK Phil and maestro Jaap van Zweden © Universal Music Group

First of all, I think I feel very honored despite having already released 9 albums throughout my over 20-year career; this is my first live recording album, which is honestly a little bit different kind of experience for me. We have known for over six months that these two concerts would be recorded and released as a live album. So, I prepared myself for it in many ways. Prior to the two-night performances, I also played this concerto at Tokyo Suntory Hall in May 2022. In this piece, there are some segments where the piano has a conversation with the cello in both the 1st and 2nd movements. Having a wonderful relationship with all the members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic really helped tremendously. During the rehearsal, besides looking at maestro Jaap, they were also looking at me, so we had a very almost like a chamber music kind of feeling, and our hearts and energy really bounced together, especially under the guidance and the power of Maestro Jaap. I think we are able to really connect together and bring this one of the most beloved concerts to the two nights of a fully packed audience with, I think, close to 2000 people at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. When I play this concerto, I feel like the music embraces everything under the same space, from the very beginning when the brass plays the first note to the very last note when the orchestra and piano play together in the third movement. Many people have asked me why I was smiling after finishing playing this piece, and I tell them it’s not because it’s finally over. Rather, I smile because, at the end of the third movement, I feel a deep sense of gratitude towards the orchestra members and the audience. I am grateful for their support and energy, which all contribute to making this Piano Concerto a wonderful experience.

Your music career started at a very young age. When you signed to EMI Classic at age 9, what growth have you experienced in music over the years?

When I signed with EMI Classic at the age of nine, I didn’t give it much thought; I simply knew that’s where I belonged. However, as I progressed through college and studied in the United States, I gained more knowledge and became increasingly self-conscious. There was a period of time when I would worry excessively before performing on stage, as I was trying to find my own musical identity and personality. However, in recent years, I have felt a sense of homecoming whenever I step onto the stage. To me, the audience feels like my family, and I sense a strong unity and support from those around me.

You will collaborate with flutist Cocomi in the upcoming French May series in Hong Kong. Did you and Cocomi know each other before this collaboration?

Cocomi, Niu Niu – Vocalise(Live Video)

Actually, I have known her for two or three years since she released her debut album. In her album, she found several musicians from all around the world to cooperate on a few tracks with her, and I collaborated on 2 tracks with her. After that collaboration, we both felt a mutual understanding between each other. We also collaborated really well, and the rehearsals always went really smoothly. So, I also invited her to record one track in my last album called Lifetime, which included my arrangement of a song from a secret garden for flute and piano. She played it really beautifully. After that, last year, she recorded her second album, which features all French music by Faure and Poulenc. She specifically asked me to collaborate with her for the whole album. It was a very fun time recording. I also joined her for her concert last November in Tokyo. After all, we are musically more and more close. I always think that chamber music requires musicians to really work together. Cocomi and I always work a way to really balance and support each other. I’m so happy that she is coming to Hong Kong for the very first time and for two concerts on May 30th and 31st. We will play a very diverse program, including some pieces from that album that I just mentioned, and there are also some very special pieces.

Right! The program also includes a composition of yours, L’eau. Can you tell us a little bit about this piece?

I wrote it last year in Japan. During my time off between the tour (with Cocomi) and recording there, I suddenly had some inspiration from all the French music I played with Cocomi. The music starts with a very simple melody. The title “L’eau” is a French word meaning water. I believe that water has inspired me a lot. There is a great deal of wisdom in the character of water. In a way, adding water is similar to music. It is colorless and shapeless, but it can turn into any color and shape. Different colors can also combine together through water to create something new. I showed the first draft to Cocomi. She really liked that piece, and she wanted to include it in her concert last November, which became the world premiere in Tokyo.

Niu Niu, Cocomi – Løvland: Song from a Secret Garden (Arr. Niu Niu for Flute and Piano)

Besides this piece, the program also includes your arrangement of the Butterfly Lovers.

This is a very special opportunity for me to rearrange the opening part of this work. I think the opening is the most wonderful thing ever; it’s really like two people meeting one another and having some very sincere and some very genuine feelings- that’s almost like puppy love or not, that’s not even love. I think this time I arranged it for piano and flute and the string octet. The octet members are eight kids from the French International School in Hong Kong. It is really a representation of a combination of different cultures through music, given that this year also marks the sixty years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and China.

In the upcoming 2024/25 season, you are going on a world concert tour in China, Japan, America, and Europe. Can you tell us about it?

The tour will begin in mainland China. I will play with the Chang Sha Symphony Orchestra and a few other cities in September. Then I also have some performances in Tokyo. There are some yet-to-confirm performances in Europe and the US. I will also play with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra again next February to continue the Tchaikovsky project- his second Piano Concerto! I really think it’s a gem that people will love.

The album, Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1; Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’ is now available for purchase.

Learn more about Niu Niu and his upcoming performance.

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