Playing a somewhat different tune
MAINLAND AND homegrown talent fuse together in a cello and piano recital given by Zhu Lin and Colleen Lee on March 17, at City Hall.
These two musicians are part of a new generation of Chinese artists who are making their mark in the international classical music scene, alongside celebrities such as the pianists Yundi Li and Lang Lang.
In fact, the popular appeal of such artists, especially that of Li and Lang Lang, is such that their record companies are marketing them almost like pop stars, with fans waiting outside concert halls to give them the superstar treatment.
Not every classical music lover is comfortable with such crowd-pleasing marketing strategies, but Hong Kong-born Lee believes the trend can only be good for the music and the musicians.
'I think that as long as this can draw people's interest to classical music, it's a good thing,' Lee said.
'I think there's nothing wrong about it as long as they are doing it in a positive way and have a pure interest in music.'
Lee has no ambitions of turning herself into a pop princess.
She sees her concert as an opportunity to return to her native city and perform before a local audience.
'I feel very happy playing in my home town. This is the place I was born and raised,' Lee said.
'Hong Kong audiences have become increasingly supportive. Sometimes they will come up to you after a concert and ask you questions about how you play a particular piece or why you chose a particular programme.'
Lee was the first Hong Kong-born musician to reach the final round of the prestigious International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland, in 2005, while cellist Zhu has appeared at a number of international music competitions, and has been singled out for praise by Yo-Yo Ma, who has compared her to the legendary British cellist, Jacqueline du Pre.
Lee and Zhu are long-time friends.
'We have known each other since the age of 15,' Lee said, recalling her days as a student at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. She went on to win a scholarship to study at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater Hannover in Germany.
Lee said that she and Zhu had put a lot of thought into planning their programme.
The organisers had made a request that the more obvious choices in a cello-piano recital be avoided.
Beethoven's 12 Variations on a Theme from Handel's Judas Maccabeus is a comparative rarity in recital programmes.
'We thought we should start with something that contains a melody some people may be familiar with but not know where it comes from. So I think the Beethoven is a very good start,' Lee said.
The duo will also perform Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise Brillante, Cesar Franck's Sonata in A (a work more familiar to concert audiences in its violin-piano form), a sonata by contemporary American composer Elliot Carter and a commissioned work by Hong Kong composer Melissa Hui.
Lee's interest in the piano began at the tender age of four, when her mother enrolled her in a children's choir.
'After a few months my mother realised I was interested in the piano and asked whether the choir teacher could teach me the instrument,' she said.
Lee's exceptional talent at the keyboard soon became apparent and a couple of years later, in 1987, she enrolled as a student of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
'They wouldn't accept students at such a young age, and that year they [APA] started a new programme for students around the age of seven.' Lee recalled.
'I think the academy gave me a very solid training. It was very demanding, and they gave many performance opportunities.'
Lee, who grew up in Hong Kong's classical music world and then joined the international circuit, believes the trend towards packaging young classical musicians as pop idols at least reflected a growing interest in serious music.
'About 10 years ago in Hong Kong the classical music scene was still developing.
'But nowadays people know what kind of concerts they are interested in.'
She believes the city's young musicians can enjoy more support and opportunities, and she hopes to be part of the solution.
'In the future, when I come to teach in Hong Kong, I would like to have my own orchestra so I can help those talented musicians,' Lee said.
'The orchestra will offer opportunities to these young musicians to gain experience before they play with a professional orchestra or work with different musicians. And they can get used to playing with professionals.'
The Zhu Lin and Colleen Lee Cello and Piano Duo can be heard at 8pm on March 17 at the City Hall Concert Hall.