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ASU music students give a "Performance with a View"

A group of three musicians came together to perform at the Tempe Center for the Arts

Performance with a View

From left: Po Hsun "Neilson" Chen (piano), Aihua Zhang (violin), and Wesley Skinner (cello) pose for a photo at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, Arizona on Tuesday, Sept.19, 2017.

It is the culmination of weeks of rehearsal and self-discovery. It is the fulfillment of a childhood desire or the encouragement of a mentor. A live musical performance offers students at ASU a unique experience. 

That was the case for three ASU music students who formed a group for September’s “Performance with a View,” a monthly mid-morning music show held at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

They performed Tchaikovsky's "Piano Trio", which pays tribute to his friend and mentor, Nikolai Rubinstein, according to the ASU Events page.

The trio consists of Po Hsun “Neilson” Chen, a fourth-year doctoral student in collaborative piano, Wesley Skinner, a second-year doctoral student in cello performance, and Aihua Zhang, a fourth-year doctoral student in violin performances. 

They offered renditions of Astor Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” and Tchaikovsky’s “In Memory of a Great Artist.”

Zhang said the planning that went into this show was a lengthy process. Skinner said it took around nine months of planning for the TCA performance in total. This included hours of individual practice, deciding how to put the whole performance together and practicing the ensemble, according to Skinner.

Chen said one aspect of planning was deciding what type of music they would play because it would depend on the audience.

“A more learned audience means more complex music," Chen said. "If they are not music educated, we’ll go with music that is easier to understand.”

The trio’s understanding and love for music began at a young age. Skinner said he started playing the violin when he was five but switched to the cello at ten. Chen began playing the piano when he was three, and Zhang started playing at four.

Zhang said picking up the violin was a result of personal circumstances in China. The lack of space meant turning to a smaller instrument.

“First, my parents wanted me to play piano,” Zhang said. “But our apartment was so small.”

Chen credits his early start in music to his mother, who also learned how to play when she was young. He said he decided to learn the piano because he loved it, and had his first piano lesson when he was five.

“We had an upright piano at home,” Chen said. “I would just go to the piano to play the melody.”

Skinner said he turned to a new musical instrument after several years due to a newfound appreciation for the cello. He said one inspiration was the music of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Between the trio, they have performed in dozens of venues across the world throughout their lives, including several places across Arizona, concerts in the House of Blues, concert halls in Beijing and Nanjing and even in musicals.

“My most unforgettable experience was in 2008 when I played the music of 28 performances for ‘The Lion King’ musical,” Chen said.

All three musicians said they were encouraged by a teacher at various venues, which led to their enrollment at ASU. 

Zhang thanks ASU professor Danwen Jiang for giving her a lesson, which also made ASU the first pick for her doctorate studies. 

Chen thanks Anne Epperson of Indiana University for teaching him about collaboration and vocal coaching, as well as his current teacher, ASU professor Andrew Campbell.

Skinner said specifically ASU professor Tom Landschoot was the reason he came to the school. He was introduced to him five years ago at the inaugural Lev Aronson Legacy Festival, held at Southern Methodist University.

“I was reintroduced to him before I started my doctorate studies,” Skinner said. “He said he would hold a spot open for me, so I worked really hard to bring a really good audition, and I am now a teaching assistant.”

They then decided to form the trio and play at the TCA. Skinner also said that Dr. Campbell played a big role in preparing them for the show, and was the person who coordinated the performance.

Chen said he wanted to form this group after he was inspired by the Visiting String Quartet Residency, held annually at ASU. He brought this idea to the other musicians. 

“He approached me and I introduced him to the cellist,” Zhang said of Chen. “Wesley had a good reputation so I asked him (to join).”

Skinner said he was open to the idea of performing together. 

“The violinist approached me about the project of working on the Tchaikovsky trio,” Skinner said. “We ended up having a lot of fun together.”

While many rehearsals are professional, the group said they remember to just enjoy the experience.  

“I think that's a really important aspect, having that fun experience and really enjoying the time spent together because it is a lot of time,” Skinner said.

Reach the reporter at and follow @Hoagmaster91 on Twitter. 

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