My thoughts, memories, ideas connecting music, people, and life.

In Memory of Fei-Ping Hsu- From Surviving to Surpassing

By Hsing-ay Hsu BM 99’

Juilliard Journal 2001

My uncle and piano teacher Fei-Ping Hsu passed away in an auto accident while on concert tour in China on November 27th, 2001.  The sudden shock still remains after these many months.  But from among the friends and family who came from all across the continent to pay him tribute emerged an amazing story of faith and joy.  He was more than the sum of his awards and achievements; his character touched everyone around him.


I remember my uncle most vividly as a demanding teacher who instilled in me such overwhelming passion that I just had to practice.  In my mind, he had always been the big celebrity in my family and my homeland China.  What I never heard about was the obstacles he faced in pursuing the piano and the amazing grace that allowed him to survive.


The fact that he started to play at all was a miracle.  When my grandfather was converted to Christianity, the government took away his job, his hopes, and his public dignity and rights.  My uncle grew up in absolute poverty, but with much love and joy.  My grandmother knew over 300 hymns by ear, and this was Fei-Ping’s introduction to Western music.   By practicing on a neighbor’s piano, he learned enough to be selected to the Shanghai Conservatory, to study with China’s best professors.  At age 12 he performed for Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, who offered to help him get government permission to study abroad.  This amazing opportunity was shattered by the birth of the Cultural Revolution nightmare, in which he was forced to watch the cruel publicized beatings of many friends and of his own teacher Prof. Fan.  He was “sent down” to the countryside - barren wastelands with no “pollution” of any Western influence or convenience.   Eventually his talent was remembered, and Mao’s wife approved him to work for the Central Philharmonic Orchestra Organization in Beijing- performing the only piano piece considered morally clean, the Yellow River Concerto.  Playing this virtuosic piece hundreds of times on demand with no warm up facilities, he developed complex injuries.  When he was no longer “useful”, the administration cut his already meager wages to what equaled $4 dollars a month- a sarcastic joke to punish the “dangerous and lazy intellectual”.  Even in such dire times, he was always eager to help others.  When a friend left the country, Fei-Ping gave him his entire life savings to finance the trip.  At personal risk, he frequently visited Prof. Fan, who was imprisoned for teaching Western music and who later died of ---health complications-- .  After his immigration to the U.S., Fei-Ping still visited his teacher’s widow at every opportunity. 


After this persecution during his prime years finally ended, he made an unbelievable recovery and comeback.  Somehow he was able to obtain government permission to study abroad, and proved his amazing artistry at Eastman and then Juilliard.   He brought his fiancée to the US, then my father, and then my cousins.  The little apartment he rented became the first stop of numerous immigrating musicians and friends.  He had changed from a political target to a beacon of hope for the Chinese people and an international star, winning numerous competitions such as the Arthur Rubinstein gold medal, Gina Bachaur, University of Maryland William Kapell, and many others.  Rave reviews of his poetry and sensitivity poured in from around the world. 


Despite his success, public service still remained far more important than worldly honors to Fei-Ping.  Right before his 1998 concert tour to China, terrible floods in the Yangtze River killed a great number of Chinese people and left ----thousands?--  others homeless.  Without hesitation, he announced that all proceeds from his tour would be donated to flood victims.  This contribution was but one of many benefits he was involved in.  Rather then focus on his own advancement, he delighted in helping others. 


The struggles of his life only intensified his passion for it, and his music expressed all the emotion he was never permitted to speak in words.  He taught me never to be lukewarm in any playing.  Often he would say in a lesson, “Do you really believe this piece is the most wonderful music?   Are you really convinced there is nothing more precious than this moment?”  No, not yet.  But I knew that by the end of the lesson I would.  I always saw how much he cared about passing on his knowledge to me and to all the students around the world.  Until the very last days of his life, he was still mentoring students at music schools- including poor and disadvantaged schools that others would have deemed unworthy of their time.


When I was ready, Uncle Fei-Ping gave me a recommendation to the Juilliard School.   My teacher, Mr. Herbert Stessin, remembered that Fei-Ping’s music was “beautiful and sensitive…everyone respected him both for his wonderful personality and for his artistry”.  Ms. Lynne Rutkin recalled, “I met Fei-Ping in early 1985, when I arrived at Juilliard.  I was immediately moved by his artistry, his dedication and his humanity.”  At his memorial service, our family put together two walls of memorial concerts programs from all across China, programs and reviews from the New York Times, the Clavier magazine, the Washington Post, and major journals in Finland, United Kingdom, China, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, South America, etc.  My uncle, you have certainly left a beautiful mark on this world.