Henry Lau, the Chopin Boy

This blog probably doesn’t need any more Henry posts for the next decade and a half, but here’s one more just in case.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but is this cover super reflective of Henry and Seohyun’s personalities or what? You’ve got Henry sliding all over his violin and cranking out high riffs at every opportunity…and then you have Seohyun staring holes into her five-ledger sheet music as if her life depended on it.

The art of playing classical music — that is, covers of songs that were composed three hundred years ago — has always been really interesting to me from a musical expression point of view. No one can really compose music in the true Baroque style anymore; nobody can really write a “Chopin-inspired” piece and come anywhere close. And so, the manifestation of expression and emotion in classical music lies principally with one’s choice to perform a certain piece and one’s interpretation of that piece.

If thirteen years of sitting through piano recitals has taught me anything, it’s exactly that. You can tell what kind of personality a certain pianist has just by seeing what kinds of pieces they choose to play and how they play it. Someone who plays Chopin all the time might be a flashy, fiery type with a lot of confidence in his abilities. A Rachmaninoff lover tends to be one of the more of the contemplative but fiercely expressive and passionate sorts. As for me? I used to play a lot of French impressionist music — Ravel, Debussy and the like. You can make your own guesses from there.

So to bring this back to K-pop, it’s really interesting to see how Henry expresses himself through the violin and piano, as this is one aspect of his musical career that has largely been left unaffected by his career as an idol. Henry’s musical style is extremely flashy and bold — at times foolishly so — and it’s something that can be clearly seen through his piano and violin performances. I honestly can’t recall a single performance of his where he’s not sliding up to some crazy high notes or whipping out some crazy flying spicattos on the violin, or banging out huge, dramatic chords on the piano. Even predebut videos of him playing the violin and piano point towards the same signs.

I’ll admit right now that I’m really not a fan of Henry’s style as a classical musician. I don’t like “Chopin boys” — pianists who gravitate towards Chopin’s flashy, dramatic, notoriously difficult and impressive sounding works. It’s not because I have anything against Chopin or his music, but because it tends to point towards a personality that is show-offy, overconfident, and overshoots its own abilities. Of course, it wouldn’t be very wise for me to say that I think Henry’s secretly this huge prick with a giant ego simply because he likes playing Chopin, but I hope that Henry knows to develop his talent on all fronts, not just the flashy riffs — for the sake of his skills as a musician, as well as himself as a person.

That’s why my favorite live Henry performance is his cover of Jay Chou’s “An Jing.” It’s such an understated, simple, easy-to-sing ballad with no room for frills, and for the most part, Henry delivers. He sang this back in 2009, a time where he really didn’t let himself do anything too theatrical because a) his performance abilities weren’t really up to par and b) the fandom wankfest kinda forced him to lay as low as possible. But it was also just really, really nice to hear Henry perform without all those theatricalities, without having to rely on them to draw attention to himself. Was Henry’s “An Jing” an extraordinary performance? Not by any means. But it revealed a side to Henry’s musicianship and personality that has since become buried underneath his efforts to be flashy and impressive.

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  • Leslie

    I was just thinking about this while I watched the video. But I have some beef with you getting mad at Chopin since he’s my favorite. Just kidding. I totally get it and agree. I like him because I like to challenge myself. (For the record, Rachmaninov and Debussy are close second and third.)

    But the fact that you can see a person’s personality in their pieces and interpretations is one of the reasons I love classical music more than anything. It’s like a lie detector almost. I just wish there were more artists who were skilled and talented enough for their companies to tout the way SM does with Henry so we can all see idols’ personalities more clearly.