Meet Annie Zhou, Canada's next piano superstar. Zhou is one of CBC Music's Next! artists for 2013. Next! presents eight rising Canadian stars in classical music, recorded for broadcast on CBC Radio 2's In Concert. Below you can learn about Zhou, watch her perform and read our interview with her.
Zhou began her piano studies with Tanya Tkachenko at the age of four, and is currently a full scholarship student at the Young Artists Performance Academy at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where she studies with Marietta Orlov.
Given that Zhou is still a high school student, consider her extracurricular activities. In the last two years alone, she has been a laureate of the Minnesota International e-Piano Junior Competition (2011) and Cooper International Competition (2012), and she won first prize at the Ettlingen International Competition (2012). Zhou doesn't limit herself to competitions, though; she has performed with orchestras in Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto, in venues such as Glenn Gould Studio and Carnegie Hall, and has appeared in concert alongside Lang Lang.
Watch CBC Music's exclusive video of Zhou from her Jan. 11 session at Studio 211 in Toronto.
We wanted to know more, so we spoke with Zhou.
What must you do before heading onstage to perform?
I need to make sure my hair is up; I don’t want it obstructing my vision or hearing. Water is really essential to me in three ways. The first is a little bit weird: rubbing a bit of water behind my ears refreshes me and stimulates my concentration. Second, I have to drink water right before I go on, as I occasionally forget to breathe during performance and start coughing. Third, I always have to wash my hands; I get paranoid and think that they’re dirty, even if I’ve washed them five minutes before!
What would you be doing if you weren’t pursuing piano?
There are many things I’d like to do, but they’re all related to the performing arts. I really like the notion of unrestricted creativity. I’d really like to be a figure skater. I feel as though I understand what the skaters are going through when I watch the sport on TV. Even though I know that it's impossible, my ultimate dream is to fly similar to a bird. For me, figure skating is the closest thing to that; it just seems so relaxing. But, I am also attracted to the thrill of the possibility that something would go wrong.
Who is your favourite composer?
I have a lot of favourite composers, but if I were to choose one it would have to be Chopin. I started with Chopin's music when I was very young and I feel really connected to it, as though I understand what he wanted to show to the audience when he was composing. Even when I’m tired, his music stimulates my concentration. I feel that I can express and communicate with it; I can put myself into it and be free with no restrictions.
What might people be surprised to learn about you?
About an incident that occurred when I was very little. The first concert I ever (almost) performed was when I was five years old; it was my teacher’s studio concert. When they announced my name as being next to perform, I got scared and began to cry. They wound up skipping me in the concert, and today I’m still embarrassed by it. After that, I got over my fear of performance and now I really enjoy playing in front of an audience.
What is your idea of happiness?
I don’t really have an answer for that. Perhaps freedom, or flying.
What is a quality you like most about yourself?
Generally speaking, I’m quite non-judgmental, especially with first impressions. I can adapt to working well with anyone, so I’m good at working in groups. I don’t get frustrated with people that easily and I don’t carry many grudges against anyone.
What is your greatest fear?
I’m really afraid of going deaf, or breaking my fingers, or anything that would hamper my ability to play the piano. Gym class is always a compromise for me because while I love the sports we play, I can’t mess up my hands. For example, I enjoy volleyball. I might only play for a minute in the game but I still always manage to bruise myself! I don’t understand, maybe it’s just fate?
What is a talent you’d most like to have?
I would love to skate. Even now, I’d like to take some time to learn the basics. I would also like to learn how to speak with confidence. I have some problems with nerves when speaking, and I often overthink what I want to say; I’m too preoccupied with the consequences. Thinking before acting is a good principle, but overthinking can be problematic.
What is a guilty pleasure of yours?
Ever since I was little, I’ve loved reading. I don’t think that’s a guilty pleasure, but I read so much that it gets in the way of other things. The moment I open the first page of a new book, I can’t put it down until I finish it, even in extreme situations! It’s gotten to the point where my parents have begun setting deadlines. I’d like to get over this “addiction,” but I also don’t want to lose my enjoyment of reading.
Check out Annie Zhou's CBC Music artist page here. Check out the rest of her Studio 211 session here. For more information, please visit Anniezhou.com.
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