Fei-Ping Hsu, a Chinese-born American concert pianist who built an acclaimed career after spending part of the 1960s banished to a rural rice farm, was killed in a car crash in northeastern China. He was 51. Hsu, who was on a concert tour, was riding in a van that hit a parked tractor on a dark highway Thursday night outside the city of Qiqihar, said a U.S. Consulate official in the nearby city of Shenyang. The official, who spoke yesterday (Dec. 3) on condition of anonymity, said the van’s driver and two other passengers also were killed.
Hsu, whose name is also written Xu Feiping, was a child prodigy who won a gold medal at the 1983 Arthur Rubinstein International Competition. He lived in New York and had performed around the world.
The China Symphony Orchestra, which Hsu joined at 20, gave two birth dates for him — either July 20, 1950, or Dec. 20, 1949. Hsu was born on Gulangyu, a tiny island off China’s southeastern coast known as “Music Island” for its large number of musicians. Hsu started playing the piano at age 5. He attended the primary and middle schools of the Shanghai Conservatory, China’s top music school, before joining the China Symphony.
His training was interrupted when radicals shut down the conservatory during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Hsu was sent to the countryside to work on a rice farm and in a factory.
In a 1989 interview with the Washington Post, Hsu said his musical life resumed when he was summoned to perform “Yellow River Concerto,” a “revolutionary” piece promoted by Jiang Qing, the wife of then-Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung. “It was required that all the people listen to it, because they said it was a political model. So we went to the farms, the factories, the army. I did this for two years and then I quit,” he told the Post.
Hsu left China in 1979 for the U.S. to attend the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School, said Shi Shuchen, a friend of Hsu who is vice president of the China Philharmonic Society. Hsu later became a U.S. citizen.
He made his American debut in 1984 in New York playing Liszt, Beethoven, and Chopin — composers from the Romantic school in which he would later specialize. A reviewer for the New York Times called him a “fully developed performer of particular ability.” Hsu performed in Beijing last summer and on this tour was to have played in Qiqihar and the cities of Chengdu, Nanning, and Shenzhen.
Hsu is survived by his wife and their 9-year-old daughter and by his brother, Xu Feixing, who also is a musician, according to Shi. His niece, Hsing-ay Hsu, also is a pianist in the United States. Hsu was cremated and his family was in Qiqihar preparing to return his remains to the U.S. this week, the consular official said.
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