CULTURE Secrets behind the post-90s violist remaking China's music history


Secrets behind the post-90s violist remaking China's music history


04:35, October 06, 2018


Mei Diyang . (Photo courtesy of Daniel Delang)

Wearing a T-shirt and ripped jeans, Mei Diyang looks no different than any other university student. Waiting at the front gate of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, he welcomed us with a polite smile, ushered us into the campus, and helped drag our suitcase while shouldering his own blue viola case. 

Looking at this modest young gentleman, no one would think that the 24-year-old had just won the world's most prestigious classical music award by playing his viola, which remade China's viola history.

At the 67th ARD International Music Competition in Munich, Germany, in September, Mei won first prize in the voila category, becoming the first Chinese champion in the competition since its inception in 1952. He also won most of the special prizes, including the Audience Prize and the Special Prize for the Interpretation of the Commissioned Composition.

"It was my honor and luck to win the prizes. They are the recognition of my past efforts," said Mei, a senior student both in the Central Conservatory of Music and the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich.

Born in a middle-class family in Changsha, central China's Hunan Province, in 1994, Mei accidentally kicked off his music career at age 5. 

His parents, both architectural engineers, wanted their son to nurture a wide range of interests, and sent him to learn violin under the guidance of Liu Huiping. But after practicing violin for a year, Mei chose to focus on music alone and gave up other interests.

At an audition organized by the Affiliated Primary School of the Central Conservatory of Music, the 10-year-old Mei met for the first time his interviewer Wang Shaowu, who recommended he learn viola and later became his viola teacher. 

"When I first heard the sound of the voila, I knew this was the sound I wanted," Mei said. That was the moment he fell in love with the viola.

Since Mei entered the primary school known for nurturing future artists in 2005, he hit the much-envied music road. 

Under the guidance of Professor Wang Shaowu, a master's supervisor of viola at the Central Conservatory of Music, Mei won awards and scholarships every year. And since 2014, he's also learned from viola master Hariolf Schlichtig after enrolling in the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich.

Mei felt grateful to Professor Wang, who laid a solid foundation and ushered him into the world's highest music learning institutions, as well as Professor Schlichtig, whose words and deeds have inspired Mei to be a true artist and explore his own special viola style.

"Professor Schlichtig is more like a strict audience member in class, giving me advice and help, while at my concerts, he always encourages and applauds me to boost my confidence," he said.

Opportunities always fall on those who have fully prepared. Before participating in the ultimate competition in September, Mei cooperated, as a solo violist, with several famous symphony orchestras, including the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra, and Busan Philharmonic Orchestra.

"Behind each performance, there are hundreds or thousand of practices," he said. A red bump on the left side of neck shows how hard he has played in the past 20 years.

Mei revealed that he enjoyed each performance, "Every time I'm on the stage, I have an inspiration, which is just like getting an electric shock," he said, "I am willing to take an adventure to perform it."

For him, every performance is impromptu. If he has 100 chances, he will play one track in 100 different ways. "One must challenge himself and be brave enough to 'climb high mountains,'" he said, "If I am to be remembered, I hope it is not my skills, but my special understanding of the music and my performance style that impresses the audience."

Next year, Mei will graduate from the universities. Although he has already won his profession's highest prize, he is still eager to learn more by pursuing postgraduate study.

He plans to play more tracks to try different types of music, and do more solos and concerts. "As long as I'm doing something related to the viola, I will be satisfied," he said.

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