Steinway Artist Feature: Jenny Lin Finds Happiness in a Hybrid Sound
She’s a study in contrasts: slight of build yet, when seated at the piano, as powerful as a freight train; serious in her craft yet exultant in her performance; ethereally beautiful yet as approachable as the girl next door.
Meet Jenny Lin, the Taiwan-born New Yorker who is the latest artist to cut a full-length record on the two-year-old Steinway & Sons label. That record, Get Happy, is a collection of show tunes by legends including Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. The songs are arranged for solo piano by artists including Earl Wild, Dick Hyman, André Previn, Stephen Prutsman, Stephen Hough, Marc-André Hamelin and Christopher O’Riley. And the result, at Lin’s fingertips, is a show-stopping high-energy experience that blends the mystique of the classical genre with the accessibility of popular Broadway material. It’s a hybrid sound, she explains—a bit of tradition and a bit of pop. It’s fresh, unexpected, unpredictable.
Which makes it quite consistent with the artist’s life. In fact, Lin’s fall season has been nothing if not unpredictable. Slated to begin a tour at Manhattan’s Steinway Hall to promote the new album in early November, she was waylaid by the chaos of weather and the dangling boom of a mangled construction crane that haunted West 57th Street as the result of Hurricane Sandy. So, with her first concert postponed, she simply regrouped and headed for higher ground, kicking off the Get Happy tour with intimate, dealer-hosted shows in California, Missouri and Minnesota before returning to New York to plan the next leg. Upcoming stops include Texas, Colorado, Tennessee and a return to New York City for a postponed album “debut” at Le Poisson Rouge.
“With the storm, everyone lost an entire week, at least,” she says ruefully. “It was difficult to communicate, difficult to plan. So we simply refocused the tour, changed a few things up. But overall, I consider myself very lucky.”
So do the audiences who have the opportunity to see her perform. Lin is an exquisitely visual artist. Willowy and elegant, she presides at the keyboard with a strength and power that is unexpected, and she produces a sound so energetic and explosive that it completely belies her composed disposition. Words fail, in fact, to adequately paint the picture of what the Get Happy tour is all about. Stop reading, and click here for a taste of what Lin delivers at each performance—this sampling taken from a recent rehearsal in Kansas.
Lin brushes off the wide-eyed praise of her receptive fans, humbly deferring the appeal to the innovations of the arrangements. “I’ve been amazed by the reception to Get Happy,” she says. “People love this performance, and it’s probably because it’s a program that’s so universal. The audience can hum to it, but also it’s serious at the same time. Plus, these are not just any arrangements. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of arrangements of Gershwin tunes in music stores, but these are extraordinary. These are difficult arrangements which challenge not only the performer, but also the audience. You have to listen closely, because there are so many layers to experience.”
Experience is something Lin knows well. Since 2000, she has over twenty albums to her credit, and Get Happy is the second album Lin has released on the Steinway & Sons label; it follows 2011’s Silent Music, a collection of 28 works composed between 1958 and 1967 by Catalonian composer Federico Mompou. The Steinway & Sons label, launched in 2010 and distributed through Steinway subsidiary ArkivMusic, highlights exceptional pianists from the Steinway Artist roster performing on Steinway grand pianos. Lin’s new album joins the ranks of a diverse range of recordings by renowned classical, modern, jazz and popular piano artists.
Yet, despite the relatively recent recording partnership, Lin’s connection to the Steinway brand began when she was quite young. “I was fortunate,” she recalls. “When I was a teenager in Austria, my family got a hold of a beautiful Steinway Model B. It’s the piano I still have today, and it’s moved many times with me.” She stops for a moment, thinks about the way the brand has resonated with her through the years. “I think what it is, is this,” she says: “You feel like you can rely on this instrument everywhere you go. When you are touring, there are so many things that can be unexpected. But with Steinway, I always know what I can expect out of my instrument. I always have complete faith in it. No surprises. Steinway is a pure, consistent friend.”
And in a world of storms and stalemates, of dangling cranes and detours, a steadfast friend can be a very, very good thing.
About Jenny Lin
Born in Taiwan and raised in Austria, Lin studied with Noel Flores at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna, with Julian Martin at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and with Dominique Weber in Geneva. She has also worked with Leon Fleisher, Richard Goode, and Blanca Uribe, and with Dimitri Bashkirov and Andreas Staier at the Fondazione Internazionale per il pianoforte in Como, Italy. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in German Literature from The Johns Hopkins University and currently serves on the faculty of the 92nd Street Y.
Lin is widely admired for her adventurous programming and charismatic stage presence. Her ability to combine classical and contemporary repertoire has brought her to the attention of international critics and audiences. The New York Times praised her “remarkable technical command” and “gift for melodic flow.” The Washington Post extolled Lin’s “confident fingers” and “spectacular technique,” while Gramophone has hailed her as “an exceptionally sensitive pianist.” Lin’s latest release on the Steinway & Sons label is a scintillating take on some of the most indelible melodies in American music. “Get Happy” presents a collection of show tunes arranged for solo piano by Stephen Hough, Earl Wild, Christopher O’Reilly, Alexis Weissenberg and others. Lin’s performance selections include “I Got Rhythm,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Blue Moon.” www.jennylin.net.