Erhu master Min Huifen leaves musical legacy spanning half a century

Extraordinary musician Min Huifen inspired colleagues, conductors and composers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 3:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 7:57am

The world of Chinese traditional music is mourning the loss of a grand master who reigned supreme in erhu performance for more than half a century.

Min Huifen, the undisputed master in the two-string fiddle since winning the national prize at the Shanghai Spring Arts Festival in 1963, passed away yesterday after a long illness, aged 69.

"We hoped for a repeat miracle after her successful battle against cancer in the 1980s," said Yan Huichang, artistic director of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, which last performed with Min in 2009.

Yan recalled performing with Min the Great Wall Capriccio, the first concerto composed for erhu and orchestra in four movements, at the first China Arts Festival in Beijing in 1987.

"The work owes its origins to the huge tapestry of the Great Wall hung at the United Nations building that inspired composer Liu Wenjin as much as did Min, who also toured with the Chinese Art Delegation in 1978. The concerto would not have come into existence without the virtuoso Min," Yan said.

The New York Times music critic Harold Schonberg described Min as "the [Jascha] Heifetz of erhu" (after the great American violinist) after he heard her perform in China in 1973.

"She is probably the only one of her generation of erhu masters who has kept her art intact from her teenage years to advanced age," said Chan Hing-yan, chairman of the music department at the University of Hong Kong.

Luo Jing, a guzheng player with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, was Min's junior colleague at the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra before she moved to Hong Kong in 2003. "She was already a superstar, but she was always supportive. She will be dearly missed," Luo said.

One of Min's most memorable performances was of the melancholy melody, Moon reflected on Erquan pond, for students who took to the streets of Shanghai in support of their colleagues in Beijing after martial law was declared on May 20, 1989.