Baolu Chen's long journey to Carnegie Hall
The traditional answer to the question “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” is “Practice, practice, practice.” In the case of Baolu Chen, former music director at Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, the answer is a lot more complicated.
Chen grew up in China. His father’s career as a player of folk instruments was cut short by the Cultural Revolution, but the father’s love of music kept the house filled with the sounds of classical music of all sorts. Young Baolu fell in love with the sound of piano music that he heard on the radio and begged to learn to play. His parents provided him with a piano for his birthday, and lessons followed.
He continued his studies in the piano department at the Tianjin Conservatory of Music, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. He was often asked to play the compositions of a young woman named Erya Yu who was studying in the composition department at the same conservatory. Their partnership blossomed and they fell in love.
Chen believed that he could advance to a higher level in the West. In 2010, he chose to continue his studies at Cleveland State University (CSU) because he knew of Cleveland’s fine reputation for classical music. At first, with a new language and culture, and the absence of Erya, he felt lonely. Because he had always found church music on the radio to be warm and beautiful, he found comfort in learning to play the organ, in addition to advancing his piano studies. When he heard of an opening for music director at Noble Road Presbyterian Church, he applied right away and was hired, beginning the job in January 2011. The church was thrilled to have such a talented musician.
Within a year, Erya Yu was able to join Chen in Cleveland and they were married in Noble Road Presbyterian Church in September 2011. After Chen earned his Master of Music degree from CSU, he went to work on a doctoral degree in musical arts at The Ohio State University. Yu took over the job of music director at the Noble Road church in 2012, where she continues in this capacity. The church is thrilled to have its second talented pianist from China.
Baolu Chen has been awarded a very long list of prizes in world-class piano competitions, including the American International Music Talent Competition, Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition, American International Concerto Competition, Asian Youth Piano Competition, the Third Germany Wiesbaden International Piano Competition, and the Hong Kong International Open Piano Competition. Most notably, he won first place in the 22nd United States Open Music Competition in California in 2014, in which his wife accompanied him. After a series of competitions, Chen received the invitation to perform in Carnegie Hall—the most exciting day of his life, after the day he and Erya married.
In addition to his studies, Chen has been carrying on a busy schedule of teaching (group piano course and studio lessons at The Ohio State University), and piano accompaniment for others. He serves as director of music performance at the First Congregational Church in Twinsburg, and he is artist director at the Cleveland International Cultural Center in Cleveland.
Chen has been invited to serve as director of competition and chairman of the jury for the Second United States Virtuoso International Piano Competition in Cleveland. Preliminary rounds will take place at the First Congregational Church of Twinsburg on Sept. 6 and Weigel Hall at The Ohio State University on Sept. 13. The final round will be held in Drinko Hall at CSU on Oct. 3. This competition is sure to offer some outstanding piano playing. Chen is also co-founder and artistic director of the 2015 Cleveland International Piano Festival, which will include famed musicians giving master classes, solo recitals, and chamber recitals.
By now, Baolu Chen has appeared in numerous recitals and performance in several cities throughout the United States and China. He will be giving a solo recital, as a guest artist, at Rocky River Presbyterian Church in October; at The First Congregational Church of Twinsburg in October, as well; and at Weigel Hall of The Ohio State University in November. Especially exciting news is that Chen has received an invitation to give a piano recital in Carnegie Hall again next spring. Audiences at all these recitals can look forward to hearing piano playing of the highest caliber.
Joanne Westin has lived in Cleveland Heights for 38 years. She is a retired CWRU biology instructor.