'I left China in 1986 when I was 24, and it's been 24 years since then,' says Jay Liu Yunjie. 'So it's really half and half between my Chinese and American years of residence, and so is my identity,' says the musician, a member of the San Francisco Symphony since 1993. Liu returns almost every year to visit his parents in Shanghai or to perform and teach elsewhere in China, including Hong Kong, where he has been a faculty member of the annual Asian Youth Orchestra (AYO). 'I knew Richard [Pontzious, AYO founder and artistic director] back in the early 1980s, when he was conductor of the Shanghai Conservatory Orchestra and I the principal of the viola section,' says Liu, now the acting viola principal in San Francisco. Born and raised in Shanghai, Liu says he feels his life has been led by fate. 'You know Shanghai and San Francisco are sister cities. [The year] 2010 also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the official tie. Being a resident of both, it is only natural I took part in the celebrations. In early July, I had the honour of performing the US premiere of Shanghai Trilogy, a piece by Shanghai composer Joan Huang commissioned for the anniversary.' The premiere was an all-Shanghai affair. The venue, the Asian Arts Museum in San Francisco, is run by a Shanghainese director. The 'East meets West' concert, as it is called, featured Liu with Bridge Chamber Virtuosi, a string trio he founded this year. Also last month, Liu won the Fulbright Specialist Programme, which will entail six weeks of teaching in China over a five- year period. 'I owe it to maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, who wrote a fantastic letter of recommendation that got me the grant,' Liu says. Thomas, the flamboyant San Francisco Symphony music director, had good reason to recommend Liu. The orchestra won Grammy awards last year with the acclaimed recordings of Mahler's Eighth and Tenth Symphonies, both with Liu leading the viola section. Next month, the orchestra will perform at the Lucerne Festival, in Switzerland, for the third consecutive year. Next year, it will return to Europe for a month-long Mahler tour. 'These tours got me to see the world, so I won't go to the [Shanghai] Expo as I have seen the real thing. It is a great experience for the people in China though.'