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From three young friends, a tribute to an old master

Updated: 2021-12-04 15:24 ( China Daily )
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Pianist Sun Jiayi (middle), violinist Chen Xi (left) and cellist Shi Xin.[Photo provided to China Daily]

As the world prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saens, three Chinese musicians decided to form a piano trio and record music pieces he wrote for piano trio, delivering their salute to the French maestro.

 

The album, titled Saint-Saens: The Complete Piano Trio, released on Nov 25, opens with The Swan, composed in 1886 as part of the composer's celebrated musical composition The Carnival of the Animals.

 

It is one of his best known pieces, created for his cellist friend Charles Joseph Lebouc.

 

Saint-Saens died on Dec 16, 1921.

 

"It's a music piece about friendship, which is exactly like the friendship of us, so we decided to record it as the first music piece in the album," says the pianist Sun Jiayi. The other two members of the trio are the violinist Chen Xi and the cellist Shi Xin.

 

The three have been friends since they were children. They were all students of the middle school affiliated to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and later continued their music studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Now they perform in their home country.

 

"We've been friends for a very long time but we had never collaborated with one another," says Sun, who started to learn to play piano at the age of 4 and at the age of 14 won the first prize of the fourth Moscow International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition for Young Pianists. "When I initiated the idea of making an album to commemorate Saint-Saens, they joined me immediately," she says.

 

Sun was 15 when she began to study at the Curtis Institute of Music with the pianists Robert McDonald and Meng-Chieh Liu.

 

In addition to The Swan, the trio performed Saint-Saens' Piano Trio No 1 in F major Op 18, composed in 1863, and Piano Trio No 2 in E Minor, Op 92, composed almost 30 years after his first piano trio piece. The first piano trio piece is an expression of youthful optimism and sheer joy; the second one is a lot darker and more solemn.

 

"We went through materials about Chinese musicians' recordings of Saint-Saens' piano trio works and we discovered that the first and second piano trio works had rarely been performed and recorded," says Chen, who started to learn to play violin with his father at the age of 3 and made his stage debut at the age of 7.

 

"This is essential French romantic chamber music, and we are proud to perform it as Chinese musicians."

 

He won second prize at the 12th Tchaikovsky International Music Competition in Moscow in 2002, a year in which no first prize was awarded.

 

"When people celebrate the 200th anniversary of the death of Saint-Saens they may listen to this album to learn about the performances of Chinese musicians from 100 years ago," Chen says.

 

The cellist Shi traveled back and forth between Beijing and Shenzhen, where he lives, during recording.

 

"We didn't record the album in a recording studio or a concert hall," he says. "We spent about three months recording it in a big house in the suburbs of Beijing, which allowed us to do rehearsals and to find the most beautiful sounds and pay attention to details together."

 

He began studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in 2009 and was trained by musicians including Carter Brey, the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic. In 2014 Shi studied at Hochschule fuer Musik Hanns Eisler Berlin and gained his master's degree there in 2017. Since returning to China the following year he has performed with Chinese orchestras including the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra.

 

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