The hush familiar to classical music concertgoers descended upon the University of Birmingham’s Elgar Concert Hall as the first notes of ‘Spring Dance’ by the composer YiQiang Sun rang around the venue.
The dextrous fingers of pianist Di Xiao transported the audience to the land of dragons and Emperors, but her virtuoso performance was punctuated by the occasional counterpoint seldom heard at most concerts; the cries of babies and murmurings of young children.
This was the Chinese New Year Concert held by the University of Birmingham’s China Institute and it saw the University open the Elgar’s doors to members of the West Midlands’ Chinese community and their families. University staff, students and partners also took their seats in the wood-panelled auditorium for a night of musical magic to mark the dawning of the Year of the Monkey.
The concert followed a networking event that buzzed to the chatter of excited guests. Much of the talk focussed around the University’s engagement with China, which ranges from research collaborations with some of the vast country’s best universities to working alongside the municipal government in Guangzhou.
But most people were eagerly looking forward to the arrival on stage of a trio of world-class Chinese musicians, including cellist Jiaxin Lloyd Webber and violinist Jiafeng Chen, who were set to mix Chinese music with Bach, Schubert and Debussy.
Di is described as ‘a pianist of awesome gifts’ and her international career started at 17, taking her around the globe from Europe to Malaysia, Singapore, Ukraine, India, China and the UK.
Jiaxin Lloyd Webber graduated from Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1997 and her glittering career has brought her to the UK, via further studies and performance in New Zealand. Her husband, world-renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, was in the audience at this concert.
Hailed in the English press as ‘technically brilliant, subtle, deeply felt and astonishingly mature’, Jiafeng Chen is a prize winner of several major violin competitions.
Professor Jon Frampton, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (China) and Director of the China Institute, introduced proceedings, before Di swept onto the stage in a beautiful floral gown and showcased her piano prowess with ‘Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake’ by PeiXun Chen followed by Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ and ‘I’Isle Joyeuse’,
The masterful violin playing of Jiafeng Chen saw a rapt audience listen intently to the beauty of ‘Home Sick’ by SiCong Ma and Kreisler’s ‘Tambourin Chinois’, whilst the virtuosity of Jiaxin Lloyd Webber shone through in Bach’s ‘Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude’ and the ‘Gigue’, contrasting with the idyllic Chinese folk loveliness of ‘The Shepherd Song’.
Audiences attending events in the Elgar Concert Hall are treated to a musical experience in a venue that delivers an acoustic that is second-to-none. The music this audience enjoyed saw more than 400 transported far away across the oceans to that magical land of dragons and Emperors, by way of a European musical detour.