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Young pianists find keys to success

Updated: 2023-08-22 08:11 ( China Daily Global )
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Piano student Li Tianyou, 19, plays under the baton of conductor Lai Jiajing during one of the festival's concerts at the Tianjin Juilliard Concert Hall on Aug 12. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Technically challenging pieces mastered by youngsters as audience show their approval, Chen Nan reports.

Pushing his black-framed glasses up the bridge of his nose, 19-year-old Li Tianyou, a young man with the face of a high school student, began his performance of Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 16.

It was the first time that Li played the piece by Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953) along with a symphony orchestra — the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra — under the baton of conductor Lai Jiajing. His performance sparked a dynamic response from the audience.

"Many pianists would agree that from a technical viewpoint this is the most unremittingly difficult of all the Prokofiev piano concertos. But the young man impressed all of us," Lai said the day after the performance, which was held at the Tianjin Juilliard Concert Hall on Aug 12. She joked that the way Li adjusted his glasses was like a trigger, transforming him into a totally different persona and bringing him into the "zone" of the performance.

Born and raised in Jinan, Shandong province, Li, who learned to play piano at the age of 4, was a pre-college student at the Tianjin Juilliard School and this September, he will begin studying at the Tianjin Conservatory of Music.

"I have played Prokofiev's Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 16, but I never played the complete piece. I was very nervous when I did rehearsals with the orchestra because I not only played my part, but also listened to other musicians, as well as paying attention to the conductor," says Li, adding that he spent a month practicing the piece. "It allowed me to have a full understanding about how to work with a symphony orchestra and a conductor, which opened my vision."

Li took part in the inaugural Tianjin Juilliard Piano Festival, which was held from July 30 to Aug 13 at the Tianjin school, and he was one of several young students, who got the opportunity to perform with the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra.

On Aug 13, three young piano students, Jiang Qifan, Wei Yinuo and Zhou Pengcheng, performed with the Tianjin Juilliard's affiliated QingXin Ensemble, under the baton of Lai, playing piano concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Joseph Haydn, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Star pianist Chen Sa also performed with the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Chen Lin, playing Frederic Chopin's Concerto No 1 in E minor, Op 11, which brought an end to the festival.

"Piano students practice alone most of the time. When they participate in piano competitions, they usually work with symphony orchestras during the final rounds. However, many students don't have the experience of working with symphony orchestras. The goal of the event was to allow piano students to get such rare and fresh experience," says Lai, who was born in 1991 and had her first piano lesson when she was just five years old.

She now serves as an assistant conductor of the China NCPA Orchestra, the resident orchestra of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, and teaches choral singing in the pre-college program at Tianjin Juilliard.

In the festival's first week, Lai and the QingXin Ensemble worked with 36 young students, aged 7 to 17. Lai says that most of the students had no experience of playing with orchestras.

"For some, it was a new adventure and for the others, they had the opportunity to express their own ideas about the interpretations of the music," Lai says.

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