Donna Weng Friedman:''Music is indeed a universal language. By spreading positivity through music, we can help lift each other up and come together in times of crisis.''
DM Magazine Writer
Award winning pianist Donna Weng Friedman enjoys a varied career as a soloist, chamber musician, teacher, curator and app developer.
In collaboration with WQXR, Ms. Weng Friedman created and produced Heritage and Harmony, a virtual concert video series in celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month.
Along with soprano Allison Charney, she is the co-creator and co-host of HER/MUSIC;HER/STORY, a mini-series on WQXR as well as a concert series that shines a light on women composers, past and present. HER/MUSIC;HER/STORY, in conjunction with the virtual concert series Season of Hope, celebrates the anniversaries of our 19th Amendment as well as the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as part of the centennial programming of the National Women's History Museum
As a recitalist, she has appeared at Caramoor, Jeu de Paume, France, Symphony Hall in Shanghai, the Flagler Museum, the 92nd St. Y, Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall and Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center. She has collaborated with St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, Carter Brey, Ani Kavafian, David Shifrin, Elizabeth Mann, and Anthony McGill, and has performed as soloist with the Atlanta, Philadelphia and Shanghai Symphony Orchestras, to mention but a few. Ms. Weng Friedman has conducted master classes at the Shanghai and Beijing conservatories and is on the faculty of the Mannes School of Music.
The curator of the Donna Weng Friedman '80 Master Class Series at Princeton University, she is also a member of Princeton University Music Department’s Advisory Council as well as the board of directors of Friends of Thirteen and WNET. Ms. Weng Friedman received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University where she was a University Scholar and a Master’s of Music Degree from the Juilliard School, under the tutelage of Adele Marcus, where she was
awarded the prestigious Gina Bachauer Award as well as the William Petschek Full Scholarship. She has had the privilege of working with the great composer/teacher Nadia Boulanger as well as pianist Radu Lupu. Donna Weng Friedman was the music supervisor and recording artist for the award-winning film documentary “Frames of Life” as well as for the documentaries “Living Liberty” and “Morris Engle: The Independent”. Ms. Weng Friedman created “The Music Bee Club” interactive classical music app series for children ages 2-8 featuring world class musicians, such as cellist Carter Brey and flutist Elizabeth Mann, produced by sixteen-time Grammy Award winner David Frost.
1.Ms. Friedman, you are not just the award winning pianist, chamber musician and teacher, but also a curator and app developer. In collaboration with WQXR, you have created and produced Heritage and Harmony, a virtual concert video series in celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Along with soprano Allison Charney, you are the co-creator and co-host of HER/MUSIC;HER/STORY, a mini-series on WQXR as well as a concert series that shines a light on women composers, past and present.You created “The Music Bee Club” interactive classical music app series for children ages 2-8 featuring world class musicians, such as cellist Carter Brey and flutist Elizabeth Mann, produced by sixteen-time Grammy Award winner David Frost. And all of that not that long ago! Can you tell us a little bit more about your projects! What inspired you to create it?
DWF: I created Heritage and Harmony in collaboration with WQXR to celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month, and to shine a light on leading classical musicians of Asian descent, during a time of increased hate crimes against Asians due to COVID-19.
Her/Music;Her/Story with soprano Allison Charney was created to spotlight the stories and music of overlooked female composers past and present. For far too long in modern history, musical composition was thought to be strictly the province of men. Our series is devoted to correcting that historical record.
“Music Bee Apps” was created to teach children how to listen for the inherent narrative in classical music when severe cutbacks in music and art classes were made in the NYC public school system.
2.Where does your motivation and your energy come from? What drives your ability to keep going?
DWF:My passion for classical music is and always will be the underlying force that drives me to create projects that mean a lot to me. I believe that music is indeed a universal language and that by spreading positivity through music, we can help lift each other up and come together in times of crisis.
Ms.Donna Weng-Friedman after Scriabin concert in 2019.
3. I am sure you experienced both: support from colleagues and communities, and challenges, can you please briefly touch on how you handle challenges?
DWF:I not only enjoy the support from my colleagues and my communities, I draw from their talent and their energy. Working together as a team to get a message across is always more powerful than being the lone messenger.
During challenging times, like the one we are currently living through, I have learned that in order for me to continue to be productive, I have had to pivot and reinvent myself. The message is still the same – communicating through classical music and positivity – but the way in which it is delivered is what is critical during these challenging times.
4.How do you approach the new environment of today’s situation in performing arts? Do you see it as more of an obstacle, or more of an opportunity?
DWF: There is no question that I long for the day when we can perform in concert halls in front of live audiences – nothing will ever replace that feeling of absolute joy – but there is a silver lining to this virtual world, and that is our ability now to reach a greater audience. I think that many people who under normal circumstances maybe did not have the time, the inclination or the finances to go to a classical music concert, I think that those same people have had the opportunity to enjoy our virtual concerts. My hope is that, when life goes back to normal, they will be motivated to attend live concerts from their positive experiences with virtual concerts. Because of this, I will continue to produce virtual concerts even after live concerts make a comeback.
5.How do you plan to approach judging Sound Espressivo, given its unique Categories? Which Categories do you plan to judge? Why?
DWF:One of the reasons I joined the judges panel of this unique competition is that these categories open up a whole new world for students to think about, explore and discover themselves in. Even just discussing the various categories with my own students has been extremely interesting. I love how they put a lot of thought into figuring out how their repertoire, and their approach to performing their pieces fit into the various categories. I think that this is an incredible way to get music students to really examine their connection to the pieces they play. I believe that this new approach to competitions is a game changer.
I am especially interested in these categories: Lyrical, Profound, Miniature and Innovative. I love that the emphasis in these categories is on more on the expressive side, less on the mechanical. This has always been an issue for me in competitions, where so many of the contestants strive to play as fast and furious as possible.
6.Sound Espressivo offers a completely revised concept of the performance stage itself. How do you see the future of performing on a virtual stage?
DWF: As I mentioned earlier, I cannot wait until we get back to live performances again, but I do believe that the virtual stage will continue to be relevant. I am delighted that Sound Espressivo supports and encourages this, and with their improved technology, brings the two worlds closer together than ever before – real time, great quality, but for all to experience and enjoy!
7.Would you like to share a message to all the young classical music artists due to this challenging times?
DWF:Never stop learning, always stay positive and keep making beautiful music!