You will be joining the China National Symphony Orchestra in Sydney to perform the violin concerto, The Butterfly Lovers, later this month. Can you tell me about your relationship with the piece, having recorded the work and performed it extensively?
The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto is without a doubt the most well known and most performed Chinese violin piece. I have performed it many times in China and in nearly 20 other countries around the world and have made five recordings of the concerto over the years. So, it gives me great pleasure to perform it for the first time in Australia! The concerto has a lot of grace and romance, but also comedy, drama and tragedy; I suppose it is something of a Chinese Romeo & Juliet story. Listeners should pay particular attention to the “flavours” of the Yue Opera from Shanghai, as well as the Chinese folk tales in the melodies. Since the concerto incorporates many techniques from different Chinese instruments you can also expect to hear a lot of different slides and bow strokes.
When you’re preparing to perform a work in front of an orchestra, how do you structure your personal practice sessions? Are there any aspects of performance that you like to rehearse alone before you begin working with the symphony?
Well, practice makes perfect! You have to practice a lot, not only for the technical aspect but more importantly to try to understand the feeling and emotions the composer wants to express in their work, before trying to convey those feelings to the audience through your own interpretation. In the end, it is what you express in your music that will connect with and touch the audience. Also, you need to have a good understanding of what the orchestra is playing so normally I will not only practice my solo part but also study the orchestral score. I feel only then that I will be able to make music with the orchestra and the other musicians together as a whole.
Having won several major international competitions, including the prestigious Paganini Competition, do you have any tried and tested methods for preparing to compete?
Preparing for a competition is quite a hard work. You have to master a lot of pieces - which takes hours and hours of practice - while paying careful attention to the technical aspect of your playing, as it is very easy for the jurors to spot little mistakes. But it is the musicality that you express that will win you the competition and help you to become a great musician in the long run - that has to be your priority.
Additionally, do you feel like competitions are an important and necessary part of a musician’s studies and career progression?
Competitions are a good way to test and reward your progress and to learn from other competitors and the panel jurors. It can also jump-start your career, but winning a competition is only the beginning and you must continue to work very hard and set high standards for yourself. For me, music is higher than anyone and anything, so I try and remember to always stay humble and to remain focused and dedicated to my craft, regardless of any successes.
As well as working as a concert soloist, you have recorded a number of CDs featuring both Western art music and works by Chinese composers. Why is championing local composers so important to your work?
Classical music in China has really flourished recently, especially in the last 10 years. We have many children learning instruments and many modern concert halls presenting first-class concerts, operas and many other kinds of performances from artists all over the world. We have also been able to produce world-class musicians that have had, and are continuing to have, great success on the world’s classical music stage. So I do think it is very important that we promote our own musicians and composers both locally and internationally. I have worked with many Chinese composers over the years including Oscar winner Tan Dun, with whom I give the world premiere of the “Hero” Violin Concerto in Poland in 2011 and the “Hero” Violin Sonata in Germany in 2016.
For our young readers, what words of advice would you share with those musicians hoping to forge a solo performance career in regard to managing within the industry and creating varied and exciting opportunities?
Love what you do and be persistent and focused. Opportunities will be afforded to those who work hard and are always ready to step up.
Lü Siqing joins the China National Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House on Monday 23rd October. To find out more, head here or enter to win a double pass below!