Hong Kong pianist May Chau plays it right in Italy

May Chau realises her dream to perform in renowned Mantua opera house, and wants to shareher experience

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 4:18am

May Chau Chung-man is set to become the first Chinese pianist to perform in Italy's renowned Mantua opera house tomorrow, but what's foremost on her mind is how to share her exposure on the European stage with her fellow musicians in Hong Kong.

And among her big plans for the city's talents include bringing a group of Hong Kong children and aspiring artists to Italy for a cultural exchange next summer.

Chau, a Trinity College London graduate and former principal conductor of the Kowloon City District Children's Chorus, co-founded an arts academy with her Italian musician husband Ugo Conta in 1994.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post recently, she said her dream to perform in the Mantua opera house began more than a decade ago.

Mantua, a city in Lombardy, north Italy, is a Unesco world heritage site. It was one of the country's main artistic, cultural and especially musical centres during the Renaissance period, and is regarded as the birthplace of opera.

"The first time I visited the Mantua opera house, I was deeply impressed," said Chau.

"I asked my husband if I would have a chance to perform there. But he told me that my chance was to practice and to attain a certain level so that the people there would accept me."

So she took steps towards realising her dream, signing up for music classes in the city to improve her skills.

After years of diligent practice and continuous liaising with the Mantua authorities, she was finally allowed to perform at the opera house as part of a jazz festival co-organised by her husband and other Italian musicians.

But performing at the opera house isn't Chau's end goal - it's just the beginning of her bigger plans to share her exposure.

"Italians are selective about music … But I believe that foreigners will be attracted, or even enchanted, by a Chinese musical performance," she said.

Chau said it was partly during her studies in Italy that she became increasingly convinced that Chinese talents could appeal to European concert-goers despite their being little-known on the continent.

"Europeans tend to be passionate performers, while Chinese musicians are more subtle emotionally … and have a different touch when they play the piano or other instruments," she said. "I also want to introduce Chinese music to them."

Chau's plans include bringing a Hong Kong children's chorus to Italy to sing in Putonghua and Italian next year. She also intends to hold an arts exhibition and cultural exchange sessions for Hongkongers.

"I hope I can bring more talents from Hong Kong to perform in Italy next summer … because there are so many talented musicians here," she said.

Her husband used to bring Hong Kong talents to perform in Europe from 1980 to 1992, Chau said, so she could tap on his expertise and contacts.

"We will try to contact more musicians, artists and painters in Hong Kong, and work with the Italian government … so that artists and musicians from their conservatories can have a gathering with us," she said.

"The most important thing is to introduce our talents to them."

On her performance tomorrow, Chau said she will be playing her own composition, which comprises both Chinese and Western musical elements.

The composition, The Lotus Flower of Mantua, was named after the plant that Italian catholics introduced from Asia about a century ago. The flower symbolises cultural exchange, she said.