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Di Xiao - Dennis - Jiaxin 920
Flautist Dennis Kwong Thye Lee, pianist Di Xiao and cellist Jiaxin Lloyd Webber.

Music lovers attended a special concert at the University of Birmingham marking the Chinese New Year with a magical fusion of East and West.

World-class pianist Di Xiao and cellist Jiaxin Lloyd Webber helped the University’s China Institute to celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Pig with a mix of traditional Chinese and Western pieces.

They were joined in the Elgar Concert Hall by flautist Dennis Kwong Thye Lee and BBC Young Musician of the Year 2018 Lauren Zhang in a celebration concert offering a unique and exciting programme with Piano, Cello and Flute combining western and eastern repertoires.

Lauren, aged 17, who won the prestigious BBC competition lives in Birmingham with her parents, who both work at the University of Birmingham. Her father Shuang Zhang is Professor of Metamerials at the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, whilst her mother Dr Hui Li is Senior Lecturer in Statistics and Econometrics at the School of Mathematics.

The event highlighted the University’s engagement with China, which ranges from research collaborations with China’s best universities to working alongside the municipal government in Guangzhou.

Professor Jon Frampton, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (China) and Director of the China Institute, said: “Chinese New Year offers the perfect opportunity for the University of Birmingham to reflect upon our proud and longstanding relationship with China, which spans over 100 years.

“We were delighted to welcome all our musicians to this outstanding event, but it gave us a special thrill that Lauren performed alongside these world-class musicians, given her special connection to the University.

“Our celebration also gives us the chance to bring together people from the diverse communities in the University, as well as further afield in the city, which have an interest in Chinese culture and working with Chinese partners.”

Birmingham’s relationship with China dates back to the foundation of the University. The first Chinese student joined the University in 1907 and there are now over 14,000 Chinese alumni.

There is also a strong musical connection with China, as the first original Chinese violin composition was Difficult Road (Xinglu Nan), composed in 1919 by Birmingham’s famous geology alumnus Li Siguang.

The University of Birmingham launched its China Institute in 2012 to gather together its wide-ranging research and teaching activities with Chinese partners and to encourage inter-disciplinary research across the University that focuses on collaboration with China.

In addition to the Birmingham-based Institute, the University established a presence in Shanghai in 2009 and opened the Guangzhou Centre in 2011, to host its activities in China.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from nearly 150 countries.
  • The China Institute is a central hub for Chinese interests at the University of Birmingham. It brings together people, ideas, funding, research and academic excellence to help create opportunities to work in partnership with China.

Described as ‘a pianist of awesome gifts’ pianist Di Xiao’s international career started at 17, when she played the Yellow River Piano Concerto for the Malaysian Royal Family in Kuala Lumpur. Subsequently she has taken to the stage across the globe from Europe to Malaysia, Singapore, Ukraine, India, China and the UK. In 2009 Di was selected as the UK’s representative to the universally acclaimed European Concert Halls Organisation (ECHO) Rising Stars series which took her to some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. Di is the director of the International Piano Academy and has held teaching positions at both the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Conservatoire. In 2014 Di was awarded a ‘distinguished contribution to culture and arts’ by the Mulan Foundation (UK) and an Honorary Professorship by Shanxi University (China).

Jiaxin Lloyd Webber graduated from Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1997. She was already giving performances with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, but left China for further studies in New Zealand, where she received her Master Degree at Auckland University in 2001. While in New Zealand, Jiaxin was principal cello of the Auckland Chamber Orchestra, a founder member of the Aroha String Quartet and played regularly with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Now living in London, Jiaxin is married to the world renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and has performed with Julian for BBC Radio 3, Classic FM, CNN Global TV and BBC TV. They have recorded for Universal Classics and Naxos and in 2014 they will tour together with both the English Chamber Orchestra and the European Union Chamber Orchestra.

Since winning BBC Young Musician in her home city of Birmingham, Lauren has been invited to perform at the BBC Proms with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Proms in the Park with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and is in demand as soloist throughout the UK and further afield.
Future highlights include concerto performances with London Mozart Players, the European Union Chamber Orchestra and Brno Philharmonic. She gives recitals at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, the Herkulessaal in Munich, the Ryedale, Wooburn and Lichfield Festivals, among many others.Lauren studies with Dr Robert Markham in the Junior Department at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and is a pupil at the King Edward VI High School for Girls. In 2016, she won first prize at the 15th Ettlingen International Piano Competition in Germany. Lauren has participated in and organised various charity concerts and is a keen chamber musician.

Dennis has been performing in traditional Chinese orchestras since early childhood and teaching music for over 20 years. He has performed as and orchestra member and soloist on the xio (end-blown bamboo flute) and the dizi (transverse bamboo flute). On the xiao, Lee specialises in traditional and crossover pieces and classical duets with the Guqin in the ‘scholarly music’ genre. He is a member of the London Youlan Qin Society and performs regularly with the UK Chinese Ensemble.