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Quartet strikes a note for music brilliance

Updated: 2021-03-03 08:04 ( China Daily )
The Magnolia Quartet [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Magnolia Quartet, a chamber group featuring four women musicians from the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, made its debut on Jan 29. Beethoven's String Quartet No 8 in E Minor was performed at the Shanghai Symphony Hall by first violinist Liu Ming, second violinist Chen Jiayi, Ba Tong on the viola and cellist Zhu Lin.

The four instrumentalists "presented their strong personal techniques without breaking the intricate balance between each part", says Lu Ping, a Shanghai-based music critic and a teacher at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Lu praises the debut performance of the Magnolia Quartet as "a showcase of the highest artistic level of Shanghai", saying that the foursome "added a new radiance to the glorious group of women musicians".

"They are four extremely outstanding musicians that happen to be women," said Zhou Ping, director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, at a news conference before the concert that introduced the chamber group to the media.

"They spontaneously came together as a quartet and the symphony fully supported their union," Zhou recalls. "We believe the new group will have a bright future on the global music scene."

"We are seeing a growing number of outstanding women musicians at the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra," Zhou adds.

One third of the instrumentalists in the orchestra are women, which is not a special phenomenon worldwide, according to Zhou. The global music scene has been tuning to a more feminine note for the past few years.

Zhou says: "Some orchestras have so many female musicians that you can't help but wonder: Is this a women's symphony?"

Zhou has found in the growing number of female applicants for Shanghai Symphony Orchestra such qualities as "ambition, determination and irrefutable excellence".

"I believe women musicians will play an even greater role in the future," she adds.

Yu Long, artistic director of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, named the chamber group "Magnolia", after the city flower of Shanghai.

"These four musicians represent the new generation of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, as well as the exuberance and vitality of Shanghai and even the whole of China's music scene," says the maestro conductor.

"They are young musicians that are worth the attention of the whole world. We hope they will be musical ambassadors of Shanghai, and become heard worldwide."

First violinist of the group, Liu, 25, only joined the orchestra in August, as the youngest concert master of the symphony. Liu is a fanatic mobile gamer and a violinist with "explosive power", as was described by her fellow musician Chen.

Liu was the only Chinese contestant that entered the final round at the first edition of the Isaac Stern International Violin Competition in 2016. "I was so nervous that I cried like a baby before the final competition," Liu recalls of the contest. She ranked sixth at the competition and "since then she has made great progress and become a much more mature musician", according to Zhou.

Chen, the second violinist of the quartet, didn't focus her training on the violin until she enrolled in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 2014. A disciplined person, eager to learn, Chen took part in the second Isaac Stern competition in 2017 and snatched fourth place. She joined the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra as the associate concert master in her junior year.

Ba, the viola player, has been playing an active role in public educational initiatives of the orchestra, such as attending online livestreaming shows, and introducing the musical events and programs of the orchestra.

She would love to play more modern and contemporary pieces in the new chamber group, and play more solo pieces on the viola, in a bid to introduce the instrument and its latest developments to music lovers.

Zhu the cellist graduated from the Juilliard School. Joining the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in 2009, Zhu takes great pride in her home city of Shanghai and hopes to join in its glory with her hard work.

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