I was sitting in my Alliance Française class in Wanchai, Hong Kong in 2009, having just moved here and in the middle of the global financial crisis without a job, where I would spend part of my week deepening my French language skills. It was a Wednesday evening and the class of 15 or so had settled into the beginning of the lesson with the French instructor in full flow, when a late-comer arrived to a less than innocuous entrance. The whole class stopped to witness a young but very well-dressed (tailored suit and shoes) and very well-spoken (in proper English) gentleman (in the classic sense) enter the room with a flourish (its the best single word to describe it), speak a couple of words of greetings in French and proceed to sit in the back of the room. I remarked that this was probably the grandest entrance to a classroom I have seen, especially for someone destined for the back of the class.
During the half-way break we all gathered in the hallway for a light refreshment and social chat. I approached the intriguing gentleman to introduce myself and find out more about his story. It turns out he was a touring classical pianist, graduate of Juilliard (the top music school of the United States with alumni such as Miles Davis) and a self-proclaimed Francophile. He was also Ernest So.
Since that memorable introduction we have kept in touch over the years and become good friends. He has traveled the world playing some of history’s most demanding piano compositions and contributing to his favorite charity by traveling for days into deep China to help build schools for underprivileged children*. Each time he passes through Hong Kong, we get a chance to meet briefly, usually for a dinner after one of his performances. And each time I get the chance to hear of his latest adventures and I am reminded of what fascinated me about ES the first time I met him. He has an infatigable zest for life, a genuine interest and concern for others, not to mention a talent and skill that for anyone else would be the first thing I would mention. But for ES, it is his talent and skill that complement the rest of who he is.
If you have ever seen ES perform you know his genuine interest in humanity comes through in the form of his stories about the artists and the time that they lived that always precede his performances. The music he chooses to spend countless hours rehearsing and learning to a deeply intimate level shows the respect he has for the music and the composer. Way before he walks on stage he has already spent more countless hours employing his music historian skills by scouring music scores in dark alley book and music shops looking for the lost treasures that would have otherwise turned to dust over the years. Instead, Ernest gives these uncovered sheets of music parchment new life, sometimes even a first life since the original composer wrote and performed their own music. The result you see on stage is effortless magic but at the same time enduringly impressive and inspiring.
ES is the last of the true gentlemen. But he is here and he is now. If you do make the small effort it takes to get to his Library where he is performing during his Hong Kong visit to sit and experience what he has to offer for the short time that you get with him, make sure you introduce yourself and say hello. And you too will have the pleasure of meeting the man who is at the front of the class, no matter where he chooses to sit.
Blog post by:
ceo & co-founder,
The international concert pianist who is Ernest So is back in Hong Kong to host a piano evening at his own Library - where over 2000 rare piano scores and a 1929 New York Steinway & Sons piano are exhibited. Ernest will be performing on this antique Steinway a program of jazz-inspired pieces on Saturday, 8 July 2017 joined by two young pianists and a vocalist from London. You can book your seats here at http://WhirlandSwirl.pelago.events
See more on Ernest here https://www.ernestso.com/charity-work
*AKH Love & Care Association at http://www.akhlovecare.org.hk