Chu Wan-pin ’s first contact with the erhu was as an act of defiance. His father, a talented erhuist, had forbidden his seven-year-old son from playing around with his erhu. But the attraction was too strong and one day his father returned home to find his son playing the instrument. His father immediately decided to teach him how to play it properly.
Hong Kong-born Chu is an award-winning erhuist, songwriter and film score composer who has collaborated on several hit films. At the age of 11, he won his first awards at The Hong Kong Schools’ Music Festival Advance Competition in all categories, such as playing the erhu, gaohu and banhu, which was an unprecedented feat at the time. By 22, Chu represented Hong Kong at the Llangollen Music Festival in Britain, where he won his first international competition. A decade later, he scored two films which premiered at The National Gallery in London, and is widely known for his broad repertoire that encompasses Chinese and classical Western music, and his use of traditional string instruments for playing jazz, pop and rock music. Since 2015, he has been mentored by Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Thor music producer, Maggie Rodford, in London.
Overlooking the harbour from pop singer Peter Cheung Shung-tak’s MMP workshop studio, Chu spoke of his admission to one of Hong Kong’s most competitive private schools, Diocesian Boys School. It was there that the virtuoso learned his most important lessons – that ego kills creativity, that nothing is more important than teamwork, and that there is significance in making time to meet people in person.
“Human connection is important in this business. A face-to-face meeting exponentially increases your chances of getting into a project. That is why I am constantly flying out to meet with directors and discuss musical ideas. I believe many opportunities wouldn’t have transpired if I didn’t invest and make time creating that personal connection.”
Chu does not take his success for granted. He was the first Chinese instrumentalist to perform in The Duke’s Hall at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Performances in Britain have seen him shake hands with Prince William, actor Eddie Redmayne, and President Xi Jinping during his 2015 state visit.
A decade and a half after first picking up the erhu, Wan has composed and re-scored music for several blockbuster films, and is working on another big budget score. One of the biggest challenges in film scoring, he explains, is not the composing itself, but time management.
“When working with an orchestra you need to be able to account for every musician’s minute during the recording. About HK$150,000 is spent every day to record an orchestra, and its true to say that time is money.”
Chu says there is an undiscovered talent pool of musicians in Hong Kong.
“There are so many talented musicians in Hong Kong, but they seldom get a chance. If my work can turn the spotlight on them and let the world know there is more to Hong Kong’s music scene, that would be a dream come true.”
This article was originally published on scmp.com
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