Donna Weng Friedman : ''Music is my silver lining, because it takes me to another world - it gives me a sense of clarity and hope.''
By Monica Anisyan
Award winning pianist Donna Weng Friedman enjoys a varied career as a soloist, chamber
musician, teacher, curator and app developer.
Her new EP Heritage and Harmony: Silver
Linings, featuring exclusively AAPI/BIPOC artists, aims to promote understanding and
tolerance and combat racism, with all proceeds donated to supporting the AAPI community.
In collaboration with WQXR, she created and produced Heritage and Harmony, a virtual
concert video series in celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month. 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. She was the guest speaker on TEDx Santa
Barbara’s series Making Waves: Conversations with Influencers and Disruptors.
Donna Weng Friedman photo/private collection
Donna Weng Friedman was the featured guest artist on the National Women’s History Museum’s series NWHM Presents: Sundays@Home, honoring women whose activism and talents serve to inspire others. In collaboration with the National Women’s History Museum and WNET/PBS Learning Media, she will launch two new education programs in 2022 featuring leading female BIPOC role models in the arts, dedicated to school age girls of color.
Ms. Weng Friedman has performed in concert halls worldwide, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the 92nd St.Y and appeared as soloist with major symphony orchestras, including the Atlanta, Philadelphia and Shanghai Symphony Orchestras. An avid chamber musician, she has collaborated with St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, Carter Brey, Cho-liang Lin, Ani Kavafian, David Shifrin, Elizabeth Mann, Kelly Hall-Tompkins and Anthony McGill. Ms. Weng Friedman has conducted master classes at the Shanghai and Beijing conservatories and is on the faculty of the Mannes School of Music. She is the curator of the Donna Weng Friedman ‘80 Master Class Series at Princeton University, and is a member of Princeton University Music Department’s Advisory Council.
Donna Weng Friedman on a concert/Private photo
1.Mrs.Weng Friedman, you are a very successful and recognized pianist and a woman with many great achievements, however, over the last year, with the pandemic, all in person concerts were cancelled, and life changed. How did the pandemic affect your life and your music making?
DWF: It was a difficult year for all of us, without question. For me, it started last March. I was walking my dog at 1pm in a nearby park, and suddenly a large man lunged towards me, and started screaming horrible anti-Asian racial slurs at me. At the end, he screamed “Go back to where you came from, or get what you deserve!”. He was standing so close to me that I thought he
would hit me, but luckily a group of passers-by were heading in my direction, so he fled into the park. I was so shaken by this incident I ran home and basically didn’t leave my apartment for sic months. Shortly after that, sheltering in place happened, all concerts were cancelled. There were so many reported hate crimes against Asian Americans, I felt that I needed to do
something to support my AAPI community, so in collaboration with WQXR, I created Heritage and Harmony, a video series that shines a light on the stories and music of classical musicians Asian descent.
A year later, hate crimes against Asian Americans went up by 150%!! I have been devastated by the ongoing racism towards the AAPI community, so as always, I turn to music as my balm and produced my pandemic EP, Heritage and Harmony: Silver Linings, featuring exclusively AAPI/BIPOC artists, hoping to promote understanding and tolerance and combat racism.
All proceeds will go to supporting the AAPI community. By listening to each track on Heritage and Harmony: Silver Linings, people can enjoy beautiful music by AAPI artists while also making a valuable and much appreciated contribution to the
2. Your family survived covid also. Did this, on top of the pandemic situation, change you and if so, in what way?
DWF:Yes, in December, my entire family came down with the coronavirus! It was just awful, I don’t think I have ever felt so sick in my life. I lost my sense of taste and smell for 6 months! We were still luckier than many, because we didn’t need to be hospitalized and we were all together. To this day, we really still do not know how we got the virus, but we are so very grateful that we were sick for only 3 weeks. I do believe that what we all went through - the sheltering at home, quarantining, not being able to see family, friends and loved ones – all of that changed my perspective on life quite a bit, because I will never ever take for granted that precious gift of being with people I care about ever again. There is nothing that compares to being together in person, whether it is to play music together or just have a cup of coffee together. Those times are priceless to me now.
3.Where does your motivation and your energy come from? What drives your ability to keep going?
DWF: Those are great questions, not easily answered, but I will try! I believe that my passion for music energizes and really gets me through the most difficult times- Music is my silver lining, because it takes me to another world - it gives me a sense of clarity and hope. I am a very emotional person, and classical music stirs up the deepest, most powerful emotions in me, and yet, at the same time, it brings me peace. So every time I was in distress, whether it was after
the incident in the park or reading about the hate crimes against members of the AAPI community, it was always music that not only helped me get through that distress, but it gave me purpose. It is through music that I feel I can make a difference, and I believe with my whole heart that music is a universal language that can absolutely heal and bring people together.