Q&A: Violin Virtuoso Paul Huang

BY Mike Melia  November 16, 2012 at 4:51 PM EST

Paul Huang’s recent concert at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., began with Beethoven. The 22-year-old violinist and winner of the 2011 Young Concert Artists International Auditions kicked off a new Virtuoso Series by the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Born in Taiwan, Huang moved to the states at age of 14 to study at Juilliard in New York. At the Kennedy Center, Huang demonstrated the dynamic stage presence and ease with the instrument that has won him so much attention. The concert mixed late-19th century sonatas with 20th century works, including Franz Waxman’s 1947 take on George Bizet’s “Carmen.” He also performed a handful of works by French composers like Olivier Messiaen and Claude Debussy.

We spoke with Huang following his performance and discussed how audiences in Asia tend to be much younger than U.S. crowds. Over the next year, he has performances scheduled across the United States, Europe and Asia.

MIKE MELIA: When did you start playing? What drew you to the violin?

PAUL HUANG: I come from a family where both of my parents are big music lovers, especially classical music. They are not musically inclined, but it was always in the house, and we would go to concerts every weekend and we would play all these records. Music came pretty natural to me, but there was a maturing point when I was 7 and we went to a violin recital in my town back in Taiwan. I was just so blown away by the violin itself. This little, old wooden box projected in a 2,000-seat hall without any amplification. I just loved the presence on stage, and everyone is listening to you, what you are saying. Essentially, it is your voice. I was very inspired by that concert and immediately said, “I want to play the violin.” It was pretty much right then, when I was 7, I decided this is what I am going to be.

MELIA: What do you mean when you say the violin is your voice?

PAUL HUANG: It may sound cliched, but it is true. There is no greater joy than being before an audience, on stage and the music takes over. You are speaking through the music to the audience. It is a different language and a universal language.

MIKE MELIA: How did you decide on the selections from Beethoven to Waxman?

PAUL HUANG: For this particular program — this was my debut recital in D.C. – I really listened to my heart and programed the pieces that I love and I am 100 percent comfortable with on stage, hopefully to give the audience something good. These pieces have been part of my repertoire for a while. Some people may say [it was] a lot of French pieces, but that was not by coincidence. These pieces work well together. I also bring in the classical Beethoven sonata. Hopefully, I would like to present to the audience a big variety of different types of style.

*MIKE MELIA: *You are very young, just 22? I couldn’t help notice, as I have before, that crowds for violin concerts are often older? How do you see that mix?

Paul Huang; photo by Christian SteinerPAUL HUANG: I travel to so many different places in Asia, Europe and the United States. It is very fascinating when I go to Japan to Korea or Taiwan, my home country, it seems like classical music concerts are for much younger audiences. I see so many young faces in the audience and it makes me so happy. They are in their teens, early 20s or 30s. Most of the audience is in this age range. But in the U.S. or Europe, the audiences are a little older, starting in their mid-40s or mid-50s. I see very little students or those my age. It is a fascinating thing for me, but don’t know why it is so different.

MIKE MELIA: Do you hope that being a young performer, you might attract a younger audience here?

PAUL HUANG: I hope. I also do outreach to younger audiences for them to appreciate classical music, since we are in this age where everything is available so fast with the Internet, iTunes, and classical music needs to take time. I want to make it as accessible as possible to younger audiences. Classical music tends to have stereotypes toward the higher class society. I don’t think it is true. I think classical music can be assessable to anyone. Like Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” everyone knows that or can appreciate it. I hope to continue what I am doing now to reach out to a more younger audience in the states.

MIKE MELIA: But you get a much younger audience in Taiwan and Asia? What is behind that?

HUANG: This is just my theory. It started in Europe. It is Western music. It has only been in the last 50 years that classical music shifted to Asia and many more instrumentalists or musicians are coming from Asia. It seems to Asian people classical music is — I do not want to use the word hip — but it is up and coming. It is exciting for them. I’m not saying it is not exciting for Europe and the U.S., but it is part of their culture already. It seems natural for them, like daily life. But in Asia this kind of classical music is something new for them and they are very excited and eager to learn more. I think it is fantastic. Whenever I go back to Asia to perform it gives me great joy to see that enthusiasm.

MIKE MELIA: Is there song you go back to most to simply play for yourself?

HUANG: I would say Brahms’ “Violin Concerto.” It is the piece I have played a lot. It has been with me for a long time and feel it is very close to me. And I find that in this concerto there are so many different kinds of emotions and movements. It is like a journey, and whenever I perform even just for practice it is very satisfying. It is like reading an epic novel. You come to revisit it again and again. Like a fine concert, painting or artwork, I want to revisit Brahms’ concerto again and again.