Meet Mai Charissa who’s playing Marlborough’s next Brilliant Young Pianists recital

Written by Tony Millett.

Sixteen year-old Mai Charissa Tran Ringrose gives the next recital in Marlborough’s new music series – a festival showcasing the next generation of virtuoso concert pianists.  Playing at St Peter’s church on Sunday, December 16, she’s just the talented musician to follow the hugely popular Ashley Fripp – expectations are high.

Mai Charissa was born in Ipswich to British and Vietnamese parents – and she’s had an international upbringing.  She began learning the piano in France when she was five and when the family moved to Bangkok she carried on with several inspiring teachers including  the Lithuanian pianist Artas Balakauskas.

Back in France since 2008, Mai Charissa is, her father says, ‘first and foremost a regular high-schooler at a French lycee’ – the Lycee Saint-Paul in Vannes, Brittany.  Her parents marvel at the way she fits in her piano practise and delivers great performances – as well as getting down to a ‘mass of homework’.

She’s got her Baccalauréat Anticipée exams next June – she explains the difference between the International Baccalaureat (IB) students take in Marlborough and the original, French version:

“The French Baccalauréat is in fact completely different from the IB. Unlike the IB or A levels, we can't just choose several subjects to specialise in.  We follow one of four different streams: either in the sciences, economics/social studies, literature, or management studies. However which ever stream we choose, we have to take the [first part or] Baccalauréat Anticipée in all subjects, ranging from maths to sports to philosophy!”   

Since the Marlborough recital series was announced Mai Charissa has played a concert in Hanoi and four concerts in Brittany. She’s now studying piano at the Vannes Conservatoire under the Armenian-French pianist Jean-Gabriel Ferlan.

One of Mai Charissa’s earliest musical successes was taking first prize in Thailand’s National Jazz Competition for Young Pianists – she was then nine years-old.  Marlborough News Online asked her if she still plays jazz: “My current piano professor is rather conservative and is a French and Russian music specialist, so I focus more on classical music as I want to get the most out of him!”

Mai Charissa visiting SingaporeMai Charissa visiting SingaporeAt her Marlborough recital she will be playing works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Fauré – and among those Fauré is her favourite: “I developed a real interest and liking for French late eighteenth and nineteenth century music since we moved back to France and I got to discover more about French music. Fauré was a perfectionist, polishing his music again and again, and his works are very well written and have beautiful melodic lines. The different harmonies he uses may sound a bit strange or odd or hard to appreciate at first to someone who has never listened to Fauré's music, but it doesn't take long until one's ear gets used to the very complex harmonies.”

So the Fauré Nocturne she’ll be playing at St Peter’s will be of special interest to her audience and it’s sure to be a fine and intelligent interpretation.  Asked about more modern composers, Mai Charissa comes no nearer to present day composers than Ravel: “My favourite modern composer whose music I have played is Ravel. He is from more or less from the same period as Debussy and Fauré, but Ravel's piano music is more interesting. He uses a wider range of textures and composes more contrasting pieces.”

With all the practise for recitals, her school work and her piano studies, Mai Charissa has still found time for her two other passions: ballet and competitive swimming.  

But her days are now much fuller: “Unfortunately, due to the very long school days in France and an increasing amount of homework, I have had to put ballet on hold for the moment. I have been swimming for a long time now and I still swim, and will definitely swim in the future. Even though I have a heavy schedule, swimming has always been very important, for relaxing and for competitions.”

Mai Charissa’s father, Nigel Ringrose, stresses how fortunate she has been in her piano teachers from Brigitte Merer who started her off, through her teachers in Bangkok and “Finally, here in the Morbihan [a department of Britanny], we are so fortunate to have one of France's best pianists, previously attached to the Conservatoire Superieure Nationale in Paris but now resident in Vannes.   The contribution each of these teachers has made to Mai Charissa's progress cannot be overestimated.”

Next year will see more hard practising, more concerts, more homework – and her Baccalauréat Anticipée exams: “I don't worry much about exams - as long as I manage my time well, I can prepare well for concerts and the Baccalauréat. However I am a bit worried about the French exam - the standard is quite high as it’s meant for students whose mother tongue is French.”Mai Charissa Tran RingroseMai Charissa Tran Ringrose
The Brilliant Young Pianists series has been organised by Nick Maurice and David Du Croz with Charles Owen – the international concert pianist who has often given recitals in Marlborough and has taught most of these young players.  Funds raised will go to the Marlborough Brandt Group’s work in The Gambia and to St Peter’s Trust.

Mai Charissa’s programme and information about tickets can be found at our What’s On calendar – for 16 December 2012.  

The series concerts in 2013 will be:  January 27 – John Paul Ekins; February 17 – Mishka Rushdie Momen; April 14 – James Kreiling; June 30 – young Suzuki piano students from London.  Details of known programmes for these recitals can be found in our What’s On calendar for the appropriate dates. [NOTE: since the series leaflet was published James Kreiling and John Paul Ekins have had to exchange recital dates – they will now appear as above.]