Play It Again, Jenny Lin
Pianist Jenny Lin may have a small, lean frame, but she’s no weakling. Truth be told, she weighs in at 105 lbs., but at the piano keyboard, she’s a bona fide heavyweight—attacking some of the most challenging repertoire with raw strength and energy. Whether it’s the grandiose sweep of a Chopin etude or a defiant new piece by a little-known young composer, she dedicates every ounce of her musical prowess to deliver knock-’em-dead interpretations. It’s the passion and dedication that she brings to the table that sets her apart in the field. Lin doesn’t merely perform music, she genuinely lives it.
“When the music actually does something to me physically—not only as a performer, but as a listener—I’m really excited by it,” Lin explains. “Sometimes it’s like a drug; just to be completely taken into the sheer power or activities of the music. Then I say, ‘Well, if it moves me, it’s probably going to move a lot of other people.’” On this front, Lin’s intuition is spot-on. And when she is excited by something, her infallible fingers transmit her enthusiasm, as well as the music’s gestalt, directly to listeners’ ears.
From Shostakovich to Ruth Crawford Seeger to Johannes Maria Staud, the music that has entered her repertoire hails from all over the stylistic map, which in a way reflects Lin’s own globetrotting upbringing. She was born in Taiwan, raised in Austria, and studied in Geneva and at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, among other places. Now she calls New York City her home, but her performing and recording career often takes her to Europe and Asia. Even with all of this jet-setting, however, she remains as down-to-earth as you can get.
She is also a performer who sees the bigger picture. With over a decade of experience working with living, breathing composers, she’s learned that “just because it’s written on a score doesn’t mean it’s absolute.” Like every composer, she knows music goes well beyond what the page implies. If she runs into any technical issues surrounding playability, she’ll certainly find some way to surmount the problem, and then may even suggest alternative solutions to a composer in order to make the piece more user-friendly so that others, who might not posses her stellar chops, can eventually tackle the same piece. “I always try to help composers to create pieces for the piano that will be available to all pianists and not just Jenny Lin.” She helps them understand that “pianists get really discouraged when they see something they can’t really play.”
It’s this sort of generosity, along with her loyalty to young composers that she really believes in, which makes her a vital supporter of contemporary music. She’s always forging ahead with new repertoire. “I really hate the fact that a lot of new pieces get played once,” she bemoans. “When I receive a new piece I try to find plenty of opportunities for the piece to be played, if not a [commercial] recording.”
Despite her unwavering dedication to new work, she doesn’t compose music herself. “I think composing is such a huge responsibility. There’s so much music and not enough performers.” Well, not enough performers like Jenny Lin, anyway.