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Classical music

Berlin Philharmonic’s first musician of Chinese descent, violinist Stanley Dodds, also has a Hong Kong connection

Dodds’ mother is a Guangzhou native, who lived in Hong Kong in the 1950s before going to the United States and marrying his Australian father

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 November, 2017, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 1:52am

A perennial question of local fans of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, on when it would have its first player of Chinese ancestry, has been answered by celebrated violinist Stanley Dodds telling his story.

Dodds’ middle name is Chia-ming, as his mother is Chinese and his father is Australian. His mother lived in Hong Kong for a while in the 1950s and still has relatives here.

While he does not speak Mandarin, Cantonese is familiar to the 47-year-old musician, who is married with three children.

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“Cantonese sounds like a language I understand because it’s a language that has always been in my household,” Dodds told the Post last week, before he and the world-renowned orchestra left for the mainland after two sell-out concerts in the city.

“My mother’s name is Theresa Chou Kee-yu and she was born in Guangzhou but moved as a 10-year-old child to Hong Kong and then on to Taiwan where she grew up.

“She went to America to study mathematics and met my Australian father, also a mathematician, at Caltech [California Institute of Technology], and the family moved to Adelaide in Australia where I went to school,” he said.

With his mother being part of the Chinese diaspora, “you could certainly say my ancestry is southern Chinese from the Pearl River Delta,” he added.

Dodds was born in Canada and raised in Australia, together with three younger siblings, Daniel, Kyli and Sofia. Daniel and Kyli are also internationally-acclaimed violin players while Sofia teaches the violin in Australia.

“We had a very good violin teacher who was introduced to us by a Chinese friend of my mother’s in Adelaide, and my parents took a very active role in our musical training, enjoying it as much as we did,” he recalled.

At the age of 17, Dodds left for Europe to hone his musical talent.

He studied violin for five and a half years in Switzerland. After that, he spent a year at the Karajan Academy, an institution under the Berlin Philharmonic, and became a tenured player at the orchestra in 1994.

He is now one of the two media chairmen representing the orchestra.

Dodds last played in Hong Kong in 2005, when the Berlin Philharmonic staged its maiden performance in the city to a sold-out audience.

Asked if he thought the city had changed, Dodds laughed and replied: “Well, we are both 12 years older.”

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Pointing to Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan feel, he added that “as an English-speaking ancestral Chinese, I must say it’s very comfortable here.”

Dodds is among six to seven Berlin Philharmonic musicians who are also conductors, and that position has brought him often to this side of the world in recent years.

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“I have a parallel career as a conductor, and as such, I have had a regular association with the Macau Youth Symphony Orchestra.

“Most recently, I invited them to the Youth Orchestra Festival in Neubrandenburg this summer,” Dodds, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor since 2014, said.

As to when he would conduct in Hong Kong, he replied: “That I don’t know, you have to ask your orchestras.

“But I would love a chance and I can always make time for it.”