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Paul Cibis
Accomplished pianist and charismatic performer Paul Cibis is one half of a duo that dukes it out in the popular Piano Battle concert. He tells Leanne Mirandilla about this project, as well as his newly released album “The Story in Mind.”

By Leanne Mirandilla | Oct 27, 2011

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  • Paul Cibis

HK Magazine: One of your ongoing projects is the Piano Battle, where you, well, have a piano-playing battle with Andreas Kern. Can you tell us a bit about this show?
Paul Cibis: I’m always really amazed by the reactions [the Piano Battle] gets. The concept of this format is to present classical music in a slightly different way. My partner and I perform a solo piece each round, and then we invite the audience to vote for which one they prefer. And they don’t just judge and vote. We invite them to give us a certain theme, composer or mood. They might sing some tunes, and we try to improvise on those ideas if we know them. There are a lot of spontaneous moments. We also talk about the piece and try to tease each other to make people laugh. At the end there’s a winner, of course.
[We hope to] break the habit of the traditional classical concert setup where people come and listen and have to be quiet. Lots of people talked to me at [my other] concerts and said that they get the feeling that classical music is oh-so-sacred, that they need to be experts to appreciate it, but I disagree. Of course, it is more rewarding and it makes sense to know more [about music], but you can still enjoy it without any expertise. [So we] invite the audience to make their own judgment.

HK: Do you end up attracting a lot more casual rather than hard-core classical music lovers?
PC: We get many more young people. I’m very happy about that. Especially here in the Far East, when we perform in Hong Kong, China or Taiwan, it’s amazing how many young people come and how excited they get about the performance. I want to make [younger people] curious and lose their hesitation. Most young people—when you approach them about Beethoven or Schubert—they think, “Who’s that?” They’re more interested in Lady Gaga. Pop culture is very dominant, but I hope that some people, through these projects, can discover [classical music] and have a chance to appreciate it.

HK: What made you decide to start a project like the Piano Battle?
PC: It started with the idea to involve the audience without overwhelming them. There’s also this idea of a duel, which goes back to time of Liszt, who did those kinds of concerts—salon concerts where two pianists played. There was no vote, but there was this sense of competition.

HK: You also recently collaborated with Taiwanese composer Huang Kai-nan to create the album “The Story in Mind.”
PC: He lived in London for seven years, and we were introduced through our piano teacher. He was [studying] avant-garde and academic pieces, but said he was interested in writing some “side dishes” that were more beautiful in sound than avant-garde music. Something very romantic and more easily accessible—with classically trained composition but with a more easy-listening appeal to a wider audience. He wrote a few pieces. I liked them and saw the quality in them, even though some more conservative musicians would have sniffed at them and said they were too light and too film-music-like. I liked the idea of breaking the traditional frames of classical music without losing them, without losing the fact that I’m a classical pianist. The first lot is published with a label in Taiwan. We published the first album in June, and it will come out in Hong Kong in November.

HK: What was it like working with a musician who came from a very different cultural background from you?
PC: We had a common ground since we are both musicians who were trained in Europe. But there is a lot of difference, which is beneficial to the project. He comes from traditional Chinese culture. He studied a lot of Chinese literature and philosophy. A lot of this different sense of beauty, and how to use space, comes into the music. It’s not European, really. The German and Austrian tradition is very focused on structure and polyphonies. The texture is not too simple, there’s always something going on. So [in the album] there is a combination of this technique, but also a strong sense of phrasing and space and how the music breathes.

Paul Cibis will be performing for one night only on Nov 3 at 7pm. Kee Club, 6/F, 32 Wellington St., Central, 2810-9000.

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