Interview By Alex Davydovich (MGBH)
She lives in a small town in New Jersey, has a parakeet named Mozart, loves ice-cream, chess, and bird-duck-goose-watching. Other than that, she is just an ordinary child prodigy.
PPM: Which city do you live in and what do you like about it?
HZ: I currently live in a small town in New Jersey – the Garden State! There are lots of wild animals in New Jersey that live in my backyard including squirrels, chipmunks, deer, turkey, wild cats, groundhogs, bunnies, ducks, and a whole bunch of birds (cardinals, blue jays, doves, robins, sparrows, finches…)!! Recently, there’s been a duck couple visiting my yard every few days! The lady duck has been really bossy towards the gentleman duck (whom I named “Rachmaninoff”), quacking aggressively every time she needs his help. Rachmaninoff has been a real gentleman who always follows her quacking instructions without hesitation. They like wading in my backyard stream or taking a walk on the grass – they’re sooo adorable!! One of my favorite hobbies is bird-duck-goose-watching, which makes living in NJ perfect for me!! I also love how I pass by the beautiful Hudson River, full of bikers and joggers, every time I commute to New York for Juilliard.
PPM: Do you have siblings?
HZ: I don’t have any siblings, but I do have a cousin!
Rachmaninoff has been a real gentleman who always follows her quacking instructions without hesitation.
PPM: How did you start your piano studies and who was your first teacher?
HZ: It all started when my grandma, who was a university professor, decided to buy an upright piano for herself to learn it as a hobby after she retired. I immediately fell in love with the piano, and it became my favorite toy every time I visited her place! There was a piano showroom in a mall close to where I lived, and whenever my parents took me shopping in the mall (I loved shopping :D), I was always so attracted to the showroom that I would drag them towards that direction. The showroom happened to offer piano lessons as well though they were taught by amateurs. Since I was so intrigued by the pianos and refused to budge, my parents finally signed me up for some lessons. After a couple of lessons I had already memorized all the pieces in my first piano book, and since the teacher didn’t do anything other than letting me play through everything and I was quick at sight-reading, my non-musician parents figured that playing the piano couldn’t be easier so why bother taking me to the lessons? They never took my piano study seriously. So, they actually didn’t buy me a piano for the first year. Buying me piano scores, they decided, was equal to taking me to the lessons. I was only 3 and, unfortunately, don’t remember my first teacher’s name… but I do remember that I had total freedom for the next one or two years happily playing all the pieces I loved including Chopin (OBM) Nocturne in E flat when I was 4 – one of my favorites.
After a couple of lessons I had already memorized all the pieces in my first piano book…
PPM: When did you have your first public performance?
HZ: I had my first public performance when I was three years old. Hahaha, there’s no way I can still remember how I exactly felt about my playing but I do remember I had a lot of fun, it was a hot summer day, and I got a big ice cream afterwards!
PPM: Do you go to school outside the house or are you home schooled?
HZ: I go to regular school in NJ where I have a bunch of friends! I am an A+ student (and, no – I don’t have a tutor). My teachers are all so funny, nice, kind, and supportive! I love school!!
I love composing all types of music for different kinds of instruments. I often perform my own piano pieces in my recitals.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about the music you write. What have you written so far and where did you perform your compositions?
HZ: I love composing all types of music for different kinds of instruments. I often perform my own piano pieces in my recitals. Many people come to me after my performance and tell me how my composition touched their hearts. It makes me very happy that my music speaks to them. I performed a shortened version of one of my pieces on The Ellen Show at my second appearance when I was 9. I have some of my music on my Youtube channel, so feel free to check it out!
PPM: Who picks your concert wardrobe? What are your favorite outfits?
Harmony Zhu (HZ): I love picking my own concert wardrobe! One of my favorite dresses is a bright red one that I wore to my performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin (MGBH) on the Opening Night Gala Concert for their 2017/18 season last October.
PPM: What do you like to do on weekends?
HZ: I go to the Juilliard School on Saturdays, which has made Saturday my favorite day of the week! On Sundays it really depends. With my million hobbies, I could be doing anything from reading, drawing, dancing, and singing to playing ping pong to going to my friends’ places (sometimes we have a sleepover, or go see movies, etc.)…
I have a parakeet whom I named Mozart, her nickname being Momo! She is now three years old. Momo was born to be musical as she always chirps along to the beat of my playing.
PPM: Do you have any pets?
HZ: I have a parakeet whom I named Mozart, her nickname being Momo! She is now three years old. Momo was born to be musical as she always chirps along to the beat of my playing. When I play most Chopin pieces she chirps softly and happily as she is a big fan of Chopin’s melodic music. When I have to play something loud like most Prokofiev pieces, she doesn’t like it and would chirp angrily at me as if I were making a huge mistake. She is never shy of voicing her musical opinions!
PPM: Who are your favorite composers and why?
HZ: My favorite composers are Chopin, Rachmaninoff (OBM), and Prokofiev (OBM). I love Chopin for his mostly “sentimental” music. Rachmaninoff’s music, especially his orchestral music, is so grand and carries such rich colors. I love the tension and energy in Prokofiev’s music. My favorite work by Prokofiev would be his 3rd Piano Concerto.
PPM: What is the biggest challenge for you in practicing piano?
HZ: When I practice, I always tend to start improvising, which makes it hard to concentrate on just practicing. 🙂
PPM: What is your favorite food?
HZ: Ice cream!!! I love all kinds of ice cream, but my favorite is cookies and cream…
PPM: What are your favorite subjects in school?
HZ: That‘s a tough question to answer – I love all my school subjects! If I had to choose a favorite few I’d say those would be math, history, Spanish, art, and P.E..
PPM: If you could meet any classical composer from the past, who would it be and what questions would you ask him?
HZ: I would love to meet with every major classical composer and ask them to play their own pieces for me – I’m so curious how they would have played their own pieces! I’d also like to show them music of later genres to see how they would respond. For example, I really want to ask Bach (OBM) what he thinks of his music on a modern piano with pedal.
PPM: You’ve recently traveled to Israel. Please, tell our readers about your experience.
HZ: I had a spectacular experience in Israel! I went to Israel to perform three concerts in Tel Aviv and Haifa with the Israel Philharmonic. The Israel Philharmonic musicians are so warm and kind, and it was such an honor for me to collaborate with them! Besides the wonderful musical experience, Israel’s beautiful beaches, fascinating history, and stunning nature were all extremely intriguing to me! In my free time, I got to visit the lowest place on earth and float effortlessly in the Dead Sea (it lives up to the hype!), climb the breathtaking Masada Fortress in the Israeli Desert to learn about the history of the Jewish revolt against the Roman empire that happened 2000 years ago, and explore the Holy City of Jerusalem, a city where old meets new and holy meets secular. It felt like travelling back in time!