By MARIA ALVAREZ. Special to Newsday
Classical Chinese pianist Jiaxin Tian, a rising international star, gave a thumbs-up at her Carnegie Hall rehearsal Thursday, slipping in such Americanisms as "cool" and "OK" with a hint of New Yorkese.
Tian, who has called New York home since 2010, said: "OK. Never mind," posing a question about her tempo to her teacher and answering her own question. Her beloved teacher Jeffrey Cohen of the Manhattan School of Music is helping her prepare for her first concert inside Carnegie Hall's historic Stern Auditorium on Feb. 18 -- a step up from her Weill Recital Hall performance in 2013.
She returned to her Steinway and Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, popularly known as the Funeral March. Tian, 27, rapidly moved her fingers and arms across the keys before pausing to begin gentle strokes that sounded like raindrops falling slowly against a thin window pane.
"She sounds wonderful," Cohen said. "She speaks through the piano. This is great music being played by a great musician. She has a rare combination of being a true performer with an insight that gives her the ability to express herself through her instrument."
"The piano has all these ultra sounds which makes it a special instrument," Tian said after rehearsal.
"You can use your whole body: your 10 fingers, your feet and your brain," she said. Though she is a little nervous about performing in the larger Carnegie Hall venue, Tian said she is excited too. "I like big audiences and get a big smile when I see a full auditorium."
Tian started taking lessons when she was 3. "My parents never pushed or pressured me. They wanted me to play with my friends but I loved the piano."
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Tian's parents are both accomplished musicians in China. Tian's mother, Yueying Chang, 57, is a soprano opera singer and her father, Di Tian, 66, is a composer. "I'm lucky I have all their genes."
Tian will debut a contemporary Chinese composition in celebration of the Chinese New Year, the year of the ram, for her performance Wednesday -- "Chinese Dream" by Zhao Zhang.
"It's real cool. I will be using the piano to create the sounds of the Chinese guqin," an ancient seven-string instrument, she said. "I try very hard to bring different characteristics to my music that tell my life story. I want to show the audience how the piano can be dynamic and express more emotions. I want my audience to be excited."
Tian's mother said through an interpreter that seeing her daughter's success and passion for music "is our dream. A fantastic dream."
"It is amazing to see her play like a master," her father said. "She is now all grown up and her music is beautiful."