Violinist to string perfect pitch at NCPA May Festival

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This year's NCPA May Festival will see some of the world's most talented violinists take to the stage.

As he slowly lifts two valuable violins from their cases, a 1734 violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri and a 1699 violin made by Antonio Stradivari, both famous Italian violin makers, Chinese violinist Lyu Siqing tries to avoid touching the glossily varnished wood on the bodies of the musical instruments.

"The lines on the wood are so beautiful, aren't they?" asks Lyu, turning the violins over.

Then the 48-year-old musician displays the versatile sounds of the violins by playing the tune Meditation from the opera Thais by French composer Jules Massenet.

"Music touches and influences our emotions. The violin has the magic to touch our most sensitive nerves," says Lyu. "Unlike the piano, which Chinese audience are quite familiar with, thanks to those great young Chinese pianists who have achieved international acclaim, such as Lang Lang, Li Yundi and Chen Sa, the violin still needs more exposure in China."

With the goal of popularizing the violin, promoting Chinese violinists and violin concertos by Chinese composers, Lyu is once again taking up the position of artistic director for the National Center for the Performing Arts May Festival.

The theme for the upcoming event, which runs from May 9 to 26, will pay tribute to the violin by staging 18 shows, gathering together nearly 20 violinists and orchestras from around the world.

"This is my fourth year in the role as artistic director for the NCPA May Festival and this is the first time that we are taking a musical instrument as the theme. I hope the audience will get a full picture of the violin during the festival," says Lyu at the NCPA.

With those two centuries-old violins, Lyu also will perform at the festival.

Two concerts will open the festival. On May 9, four Chinese violinists, Lyu, Ning Feng, Huang Mengla and Huang Bin, all winners of the prestigious Premio Paganini International Violin Competition, will share the stage by giving solo performances in the first half of the concert and teaming up in the second half to perform repertoires including J.S. Bach's Double Violin Concerto, Antonio Vivald's Concerto in B minor RV 580 for Four Violins and Niccolo Paganini's 24 Caprices.

Young Chinese violinists Chen Xi, who won the top prize at the 12th International Tchaikovsky Violin Competition in 2002, at the age of 17 - the youngest top prize winner in the history of the competition - and Liu Xiao, who graduated from the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris, with five solo albums under his belt, will join the concert.

On May 10, a concert will be held to pay tribute to Chinese composers. Established Chinese violinist, Liu Yuxi, will perform with the younger generation of Chinese violinists, including Lyu, Jiang Yiying and Jiang Zhenyi.

"I've seen the repertories for the upcoming concerts during the May Festival and I am very excited because many of the pieces are rarely performed. The audience will get the chance to see the vibrant scenes of Chinese violinists of different ages and many original concertos for violin by Chinese composers," says Liu, 80, who is teaching at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and is planning a tour of France later this year.

The legendary violinist comes from a musical family. His father, Liu Beimao (1903-1981), was a renowned composer and music educator. His uncles Liu Bannong (1891-1934) was a linguist and poet, and Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) was a musician and composer best known for his innovative work for the Chinese folk instrument, the erhu.

According to Liu Yuxi, the violin was among the first group of Western instruments that was brought to China by missionaries during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). During the 1920s and 1930s, a 16-member orchestra was founded at Peking University and his uncle, Liu Tianhua, was one of the members.

"My uncle Liu Tianhua learned violin before he picked up the erhu. The connection between the violin and erhu was very close for him as a musician and composer," says Liu Yuxi.

The first original Chinese violin composition was Difficult Road (Xinglu Nan), composed in 1919 by famous geologist Li Siguang, who was pursuing his studies at the University of Birmingham in Britain at that time.

Chinese composers are keen on writing works for the violin and among the pieces, The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto, which was written in 1959 by two Chinese composers, He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, then students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, was one of the most well-known pieces of music of the time.

During the concert on May 10, Lyu will play The Butterfly Lovers.

"I can still remember that almost 40 years ago, Lyu, who was about 10 years old, came to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing from his hometown of Qingdao, Shandong province, accompanied by his father. The young boy displayed quite a talent when he played violin in front of us and since then he has become a star," says Liu Yuxi. "The training of young violinists has never stopped in China. With more and more children learning Western instruments, we've seen many child prodigies. They have a good balance between mastering the solid techniques and the private emotional interpretations required for individual pieces."

Four internationally acclaimed violinists will also join the May Festival, including Israeli-American violinist Pinchas Zukerman, US Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell, Italian violinist Fabio Biondi and the German violinist of South Korean descent, Clara-Jumi Kang.

In other highlights of the festival, the Leipzig String Quartet will perform a program of Joseph Haydn's most iconic works on May 16, such as String Quartet in D minor, Op. 103, Hob. III83, String Quartet in D major, Op. 64, No. 5, and The Seven Last Words.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will perform with Lyu with programs including Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, on May 24.

According to Wang Luli, deputy director of the performance department at the NCPA, the annual festival started in 2009 and has become a major event for the NCPA, which focuses on chamber music.

So far, the festival has showcased more than 140 concerts, not only at the NCPA's concert halls, but also at public spaces in Beijing, such as subway stations, schools and museums.

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