Welcome to Frederic Chiu’s Classical Smackdown!
Join audiences worldwide who have dared to make a statement and choose between two extraordinary composers, each pair played by Frederic Chiu. Over 100 Smackdowns in 28 States and 8 countries with nail-bitingly close results!
Here's a selection from the over 8000 audience member comments. Go to the detail page of each Smackdown to see all comments.
About the Smackdown Format
“A sensory delight!! Mr. Chiu will overwhelm all your senses.”
“What an incredible way to involve the audience and pique their interest!”
About the Programs
Heart and Soul: Youzer! My mother used to forbid me to bang on the piano. She didn’t know Prokofiev. While Debussy is perfect for a full moon, I am voting for Prokofiev because it takes courage to play him. It takes courage to listen to Prokofiev. And it takes courage to grow “new ears” to challenge my mother’s early training.
Time Travelers: “Heard Glass for 1st and only time at the Houston Grand Opera World Premiere of Akhenaton - I hated it and it prejudiced my thinking of Philip Glass - Really surprised how much I enjoyed Glass tonight! Brilliant World Premiere!!”
Young Geniuses: ”We loved your commentaries to give context to the music and introduce the composers. Really informative. Also LOVE the interactive piece with voting and sharing of results - what a great idea!”
About the Playing
“My first time to hear you Live. Wonderful experience! Your playing is gorgeous. Your warm, imaginative presentation and sense of humor are an added bonus. Bravo!”
Three matchups, each pairing two of Frederic's favorite composers
Heart and Soul
Choosing the first matchup for Classical Smackdown was not hard - my two favorite composers also happened to be contemporaries who occupy polar opposite spaces on the musical spectrum.
Prokofiev was a life-long love of mine; I don't remember a time when I didn't know Prokofiev’s music. It started, as with everyone, with Peter and the Wolf, but there was also the Lt Kije suite, the 2nd Concerto (Yakov Zak) and the 5th Concerto (Richter). As Richter was the fresh face on the US concert scene during my childhood, I heard more obscure Prokofiev works in his hands as I was growing up.
Debussy was a later revelation, after having studied his works with incomprehension in school. When I went to Paris and first saw Debussy as a real person, his personality came to life. Learning the French language was key to understanding the rhythms and inflections of the music. And it allowed me to read Cortot’s writing about Debussy, epic.
For the second Smackdown, I was drawn to issues of time.
Often, when I'm caught up in a particularly dense piece, I will have the feeling that time has stood still - the music has provided me so much to think about or feelings to explore that I no longer need to move forward, perfectly happy staying in one place. Other times, I find that time has moved forward much more quickly than I had imagined. Either way, I feel that, for a time-based artist (a musician), being able to play with a listener’s sense of time is one of the great powers we wield.
Both Johann Sebastian Bach and Philip Glass have that gift of being able to alter the listener’s sense of time.
The passage of time is also somehow underlined by pairing these two composers, who are separated by almost 300 years, and whose music speaks universally, to diverse people around the globe.
This Smackdown played in my mind for decades. Mendelssohn’s early maturity always intrigued me - one of my first recordings included the 3 Sonatas by Mendelssohn, written at ages 12, 16 and 17!
While Mendelssohn and Chopin were born barely a year apart, only a few hundred miles from each other, their backgrounds were very different. Mendelssohn’s well-established intellectual family provided him with unmatched educational and social outlets. Chopin was raised in a more working-class environment, in a family with high educational and cultural aspirations but who were obliged to lead a simple lifestyle. His genius was left to create its own language and technique.
By the time they reached age 20, they had changed the world of music, in very different ways. Their early creations makes us choose between: perfectly embraced and expounded tradition, or nascent innovation and intuition waiting to fully blossom.