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An overdose of cello

DATE:2018-03-19

 

 Nan | China Daily

Updated: March 14, 2018

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Since its debut in 2016, SuperCello has helped many Chinese youngsters to meet and interact with professors and young musicians from schools overseas.

Everywhere Beijing-based cellist Chu Yibing goes he carries along with him a traditional balm famous for its sharp odor and power to relieve fatigue.

During the past year, he has been fully occupied with SuperCello, a four-day event he initiated in 2016. It will bring together more than 60 cellists from around the world to Beijing from April 28 to May 1.

"The smell keeps me calm and relaxed. I sent hundreds of emails and made phone calls to discuss details with the musicians. It took lots of sleepless nights to make everything happen," says Chu, 53, a great cellist of his generation.

Born in Beijing to musicians Zhu Yongning and Wang Yaoling, both teachers at the capital's Central Conservatory of Music, he started learning the cello at age 8 and went to Europe to pursue his music studies in 1983. Six years later, he became the principal cellist of Switzerland's Basel Symphony Orchestra. After nearly two decades living and working in the West, he returned to China in 2004. He can speak Italian, French and German.

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SuperCello, held once a year during the May Day holiday, offers full-day events to audiences such as recitals, master classes and workshops. It turns the hallowed arena of the concert hall of National Library of China in Beijing, where classical musicians perform serious music, into "an amusement park".

"From breakfast to dinner, you are surrounded by music, which is a rare experience for most Chinese audiences," says Chu. "It is all about music and communication. Everyone has a great time here."

Unlike classical music recitals, which have different ticket prices, Chu decided that "there is no first class, second class or third class. Audiences just come and sit, or stand anywhere they want".

"You can leave and return at any time as long as you show your ticket," he says.

This year, the event will start with exchange programs between Chinese and Western students during the afternoon of April 28. At 7:30 pm on the same day, the Romanian Youth Orchestra will perform under the baton of conductor Philippe de Chalendar with pieces including Antonin Dvorak's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B Minor, Edouard Lalo's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in D Minor and Dmitri Shostakovich's Concerto No 1 for Cello and Orchestra.

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Other guest musicians include German cellist Julius Berger, a professor at the University of Augsburg; French cellist Marc Coppey, a professor from the Paris Conservatory, and Swiss cellist Wen-Sinn Yang, a professor at the Academy of Music and Theater in Munich.

Speaking about the event, cellist Martti Rousi, professor at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland, who attended the SuperCello event in 2017, says: "SuperCello is a cello festival with the feeling of a rock show. There is lots of support, knowledge and dedication from the audience. You must be there to understand it. I feel privileged to be coming back.

"I also feel the performers and audience together bring out the beauty, emotion and drama of the fantastic music. Without the audience we cannot do much."

The cellist will give a master class on April 29 and perform Ernest Bloch's Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hebraique for Violoncello and Orchestra on April 30.

The event will be wrapped up with a free concert on May 1 by the China Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and five cellists from France and Germany, including Jerome Pernoo, Raphael Pidoux and Marc Coppey, under the baton of conductor Shao En, with repertoires such as Franz Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor and Camille Saint-Saens' Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No 1 in A Minor.

Chu says that many children who are learning cello attended the music festival last year with their parents, and the event is a great opportunity for them to meet professors from established music schools and interact with young cellists.

From 2004 to 2017, Chu worked as the head cello teacher at the Central Conservatory of Music. And among his successful students is Yang Yichen, a young Chinese cellist, whose band, Amber Quartet, won an international chamber music competition in 2013, making it one of the first Chinese quartets to do so.

Chu formed his cello ensemble in 2005, dedicating most of his time to chamber music. And he has toured the country with the ensemble, performing in places where the cello is rarely heard.

In 2015, he and his team visited locations along the ancient Silk Road and performed works by Bach, Debussy and Mahler. The venues included Qinghai Lake in Northwest China's Qinghai province. Separately, Chu and his team also played amid natural settings in nearby Gansu province, at venues such as the Yadan National Geological Park, which has landforms created by winds from the Gobi Desert.

In 2016, when SuperCello made its debut, Chu celebrated his 50th birthday with the audience and his musician friends. He says "it was a fabulous birthday".

"Every year, the audience and musicians surprise me. The excitement is indescribable," he says about the project.