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Family Plays Butterfly Lovers
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One of China's most beautiful pieces of music, The Butterfly Lovers Concerto will be performed by violinist Yu Lina who premiered it almost 50 years ago, accompanied by her renowned pianist son Li Jian, writes Michelle Qiao.

It was during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) that seven-year-old Li Jian first heard the famous 1959 premiere recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto by his renowned violinist mother Yu Lina.

Since Western classical music was seldom heard at that time, Yu had to keep the volume very low so Li had to put his ear close to the speaker of an old gramophone to appreciate the music.

"He enjoyed the music a lot and I told him 'I played it,"' says Yu. She won instant acclaim in 1959 when she premiered the concerto adapted from a tragic Chinese love legend. She was an 18-year-old student then.

Now violinist Yu, whose name has been associated with The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for nearly half a century, will play the piece again on February 22 with her acclaimed New York-based pianist son Li Jian.

The mother and son had played the piece once before in 1990 during a concert in Taiwan when Li was conductor. This time, Li will play the piano to accompany his mother.

"The piano-violin version of the piece is very difficult for a pianist who must create an effect like a symphony orchestra," says Yu. "There's also great pressure to interpret the piece since the music is so familiar to Chinese people. Frankly, my son is the best pianist I've ever cooperated with on Butterfly Lovers."

Pianist Li had studied violin with his mother in his early years but he later switched to piano.

"I chose piano because the pianist can sit to play," says Li. He gained worldwide recognition in 1981, when he took second place in the prestigious Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris at the age of 16.

Later he studied from legendary maestro Mieczyslaw Horszowski at the Curtis Institute of Music in 1985. He was honored with the Festorazzi Award as the most promising graduating piano student in 1990.

Li was the last student of the then 93-year-old Horszowski. Before his death he gave Li his own Steinway piano.

Horszowski was a pupil of Theodor Leschetizky, who had studied with Carl Czerny. And Czerny was a pupil of Beethoven for years, says local music critic Li Yanhuan. "Thus we can say Li is the fifth-generation pupil of Beethoven."

Li says that indeed Beethoven is his favorite composer.

Li will play Debussy's Lisle Joyeuse, Beethoven's Sonata Op. 31 No. 2 in D Minor, Empest and Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy in C Major, Op. 15.

After the intermission, he will switch to the Chinese composition Moonlight on West Lake and conclude with Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto with his mother.

"My son and I have magic stage chemistry," says Yu. "Although he only has had time for concert cooperation in recent years, we tacitly understand the nuances of each other's playing on the stage."

Yu's famous 1959 The Butterfly Lovers album - the one her son first listened to - had sold more than two million copies at home and abroad. But Yu only received 1,500 yuan (US$192) in the 1970s and 1980s.

"This piece means so much to me and it is entwined with my life," says Yu.

Now it will also be entwined with her son's life.

(Shanghai Daily February 16, 2007)

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