This 27-year-old classical pianist spices up her performances with pop, anime genres

With a gift in composing and performing since young, local musician Churen Li strives to grow a shared adoration for classical music among the masses.

Caleb Lau

Grew up a musician, found a calling in photography and writing. Still in love with all of them.

Published: 10 October 2022, 11:55 AM

As music tastes shift away from the past eras of Baroque and Renaissance to popular music, musicians begin to find the need to diversify or adapt their compositions and repertoire accordingly. 

But some seek instead to sustain one of the art form’s most renowned eras – classical music. 

For 27-year-old local pianist and composer Churen Li,  this means introducing a contemporary twist. She enthrals her audiences with renditions of music greats, from past icons Frédéric Chopin to current pop legends like Lady Gaga. 

“My relationship with classical music is at the core of what I do,” she shares. “It inspires me and gives me focus and direction.”

Churen’s connection with the art form began at the young age of seven, when she played her first composition To Mother with Love at the Esplanade when it first opened in 2002. 


Churen’s first composition was written as a birthday present to her mother (left). PHOTO CREDIT: CHUREN LI


Her growing fondness for piano playing led her to enrol as an undergraduate at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. 

Churen went on to complete two Master’s Degrees at Yale School of Music and Cambridge University, where she developed a knack for composition and improvisation.

“In my time overseas, I explored different things like avant-garde experimental music, and music academia,” says Churen. “All of these explorations have enriched my approach to the piano.”

In decades-long expertise as a performer, she recalls her teenage years participating in piano competitions and music festivals across Europe and America, even winning the top prize at the International Young Talents Piano Competition of Barlassina in 2014.


In July this year, Churen performed as a soloist for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s 2022/23 season-opening concert. PHOTO CREDIT: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA/ALOYSIUS LIM


Since graduating, Churen has found a niche as a solo performer and composer in the field of contemporary classical music. 

“I’m a big believer in adapting to new audiences in order to keep the traditions of and love for classical music alive in the minds of this modern audience.

“I love that audiences respond in a more immediate way to my performances in which I try to bridge the classical and non-classical divide,” she says.

One of her notable recent accomplishments was the release of her debut EP Ephemory in July. The five-track record featured her own compositions influenced by the works of prominent classical music composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Maurice Ravel.

Churen’s exploration of her identity carries through in her regular performances under Candlelight Concerts, a series organised by global live-entertainment platform Fever which is widely recognised for its dark candle-lit stage aesthetics.


As part of Candlelight Concerts’ roster of young musicians, Churen is able to experiment with creating her own set list and adopting locally-inspired styling on stage. PHOTO CREDIT: CALEB LAU


Through her regular showings, Churen has been able to combine classical music repertoire with more current genres of jazz, pop and anime, which she says are more accessible for the “classical-curious” audience.

However, beyond the joy of improvisation and exploration, Churen admits her endeavours aren’t short of challenges as well – the biggest being having to keep her performances fresh for the small local demographic of classical music lovers.

“To be doing enough performances as a solo performer and make sure I don’t get repetitive for my growing audience, I’m constantly curating new performances, arranging music, and practising, which is therapeutic in its own way,” she says.

“This also means that in any given month, I have to practise at least two to four hours worth of music for upcoming concerts.”

Aware of the shortening attention spans of her audience, Churen says she has also adjusted her repertoire choices to feature shorter-duration pieces, or for those that are longer, to insert appropriate interludes.

In spite of it all, Churen continues to press on as a contemporary classical pianist and composer.

Hinting at a collaboration with a local electronic music producer in the works, Churen finds the performing aspect another driving factor in her endeavours.

“The connection I feel with myself, with the piano, with the music, with my audience is beyond what I can describe in words,” she says.

“I love the thrill of being onstage, and that each musical world offers possibilities for fantasy and exploration.”

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