Winner of the Chopin Competition. Still in his prime, he’s been acclaimed all over the globe as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Chopin. So why have you never heard of Dang Thai Son?
Like his three-word name, you might say that pianist Dang Thai Son began his career with three strikes against him. First, he’s Vietnamese and grew up in a country knowing nothing but war. Second, he studied piano in Moscow, at the depth of the Cold War. Third, the Chopin Prize he WON was at the competition where the LOSER made headlines: when Russian firebrand Ivo Pogorelich was eliminated, and juror Martha Argerich quit in protest. It happened in 1980, the same year that the US pulled out of the Summer Olympics in Moscow. Small wonder there was scant interest in America in a Hanoi-born Russian-trained pianist with a controversial prize.
Thirty years later, Dang Thai Son has a major career on four continents. As the first Asian artist to win a major competition, he’s a hero in his native country – his name means “Mountain” in Vietnamese. He plays all over China, Korea, and Japan. He’s treated like an adopted son in Poland, playing next to Garrick Ohlsson on Chopin’s bicentennial birthday concert. And Dang Thai Son now lives in Canada, where he tours from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories – when not playing in Brazil and the rest of South America..
But to this day, you have to look long and hard to find any live performances, much less recordings, by Dang Thai Son in the US. In the Chopin Year of 2010 Dang Thai Son has just TWO American engagements – one in Boston, the other Baylor University in Waco, Texas. But Dang Thai Son is philosophical about his profile. As he told a Hanoi newspaper, he grew up herding water buffalo, intending to be a farmer. “Composers are solitary, but pianists are lonelier. On the stage, other musical instruments need at least two players. For pianists, it is all alone. That’s the character of the instrument.”
And, it seems, of Dang Thai Son – the great unknown Chopinist of our time. - Benjamin K. Roe