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Music that brims with the joys of spring

Updated: 2023-10-05 13:51 ( China Daily )
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Xiao Di performs during a solo concert at Birmingham Town Hall in 2019, when she released her Femmes de Legende album that celebrates work by female composers and their inspirations. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Chinese pianist Xiao Di is a big part of Spring Festival in the UK, Xing Yi reports in London.

After living in the United Kingdom for almost 20 years the pianist Xiao Di is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, but music is the best language for promoting understanding between people and cultures, she says.

During each Spring Festival since 2012 Xiao has held a concert in the Elgar Concert Hall in Birmingham, in the English Midlands, known as the Didi & Friends Chinese New Year Celebration.

The concert series involves musicians from different genres giving performances at an event that mixes Chinese culture with Western music, offering British audiences another way to celebrate the traditional Chinese festival.

"One of my aspirations is to be a cultural ambassador, using art to break down cultural barriers and bring people together, and it's a role I take very seriously," said Xiao, who was born in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and who started learning piano when she was 4.

She went on to train at China's top music institution, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she gained bachelor's and master's degrees.

She later completed a doctoral degree at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and became the first Chinese piano professor at the institution.

The Spring Festival concert series had a very humble beginning.

"It was only me and two other friends, who were invited by the China Institute of the University of Birmingham to give a small concert to celebrate the Lunar New Year," Xiao said. "We played classical chamber music, but the audience felt that it lacked Chinese elements for the Chinese festival."

In ensuing years Xiao tried to introduce Chinese music and other creative elements, such as Chinese opera and Chinese instruments, and she invited other musicians, both professional and amateur, to join in.

This February the concert featured 16 artists, including a solo percussionist, Wang Beibei, a Chinese traditional dance artist, Zhou Hangyu, and a Sichuan Opera artist, Zhao Shuai, who gave performances to a packed house of 600 people.

The British musicians Max Gittings and Mike Skelton also contributed, playing the Chinese traditional instrument hulusi, or gourd flute, and the sanxian, a three-string lute.

"The Spring Festival concert has become an annual cultural highlight in the city," Xiao said, adding that Mike Whitby, a member of the House of Lords, and Li Liyan, cultural minister counselor at the Chinese embassy in London, attended this year's concert.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions Xiao could only hold online concerts in the preceding two years. When the restrictions were lifted for this year's event, tickets sold out in five minutes.

"I was so moved when I saw the hall was full of the audience again," Xiao said. "It motivated me to continue organizing the Spring Festival concert, and next year will be the 12th edition. It will be significant to the project because 12 years are a cycle in traditional Chinese philosophy."

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