As if playing for sophisticated, critical New Yorkers weren't tough enough, pianist Tian Jiaxin gave herself an extra challenge when she performed at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

A highlight of Tian's performance - following up her triumphant Carnegie Hall solo debut last year - was her rendition of Chopin's Sonata No 2 in B-flat Minor, Op 35. Tian says performing this piece has always been difficult for her, because it requires the artist to smoothly present four different emotional personalities - one from each movement.

By evening's end, Tian had left her mark, prompting a standing ovation from the audience.

"I am so excited. I played very well," she says after the concert. Comparing her effort with the February 2013 Carnegie Hall recital, she says, "I had more connection with the audience this time."

She credited Philippe Entremont, a French pianist, conductor and teacher with helping her to rise to the occasion. "He inspired me and taught me how to express my emotion while he traveled to New York last October," Tian recalls.

Tian and her parents sat down with China Daily after the concert to talk about the young pianist's musical journey.

"We (her mother and I) are so proud of her," says Tian's father, Tian Di, a composer and conductor from the General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army. "She worked so hard to reach the level she is at today."

Born into a family of professional musicians in Beijing, Tian began playing piano at age 3. But unlike other Chinese prodigies who embark on a musical path that includes intensive conservatory training, Tian followed a more ordinary path - attending elementary school, middle school and high school.

Tian's father says he and Tian's mother wanted their daughter to receive a comprehensive education at an early age, so she would be able to choose what she wanted to do when she grew up.

"We found her a great piano teacher, and we were able to help her with her practice," he says.

The pianist says she enjoyed her time in academic schools.

"I experienced a lot of things which I may not have been able to experience if I went to music conservatories," she says. "My performance is based on those experiences."

Tian's mother, Wang Yueying, a retired soprano with the Opera Troupe of the General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army, says in her last year of high school, Tian had to choose whether to study at an academic college or to play piano professionally.

"She told us she enjoys playing piano so much," Wang says. "Her father and I then gave her our full support."

Wang says Tian practiced at least four hours a day after school during the weeks, and even more on weekends.

At Shenyang Conservatory of Music she dreamed of making it big as a pianist.

In 2010, she left China to attend Manhattan School of Music on a scholarship under faculty member and critically acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Cohen.

"I dreamed of performing onstage and dedicating myself to connecting Eastern and Western music," Tian says. "So after I graduated from Manhattan School of Music in May 2012, I worked hard to achieve my dream."

On Tian's performance calendar is playing a duet with Entremont at China's National Grand Theater in April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France.

In addition to performing, Tian also has begun to explore music pedagogy. Since 2011, she has taught master classes in different cities in China. She says she is drawn to the idea of helping Chinese piano students connect Eastern and Western music. This summer, she plans to teach master classes in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.


A pianist's pathway to Lincoln Center[1]-