This past month I had the opportunity to travel to China for the second leg (and 6th edition) of Pianestival. This was my first trip to China so I was anticipating this visit for quite some time. I have sometimes wondered who I would have been had my parents not decided to leave Asia. Would I still have played piano? I know I would never want to change my life in Canada, but now and then it is interesting to ponder life.
Shanghai was once described to me as New York meets Las Vegas, and the comparison was not that far off. But think of New York with a population density 4 times greater. Skyscrapers dominated the skyline and the city was filled with ex-pats and Western influence. I was a bit surprised to see so much Western culture in an Asian city. Shanghai was full of great French bistros and cafes, Spanish tapas bars, and Western-run rooftop patios. Who would ever need to travel outside of Shanghai? Good food was plentiful in China, I was in hot-pot and dumpling heaven!
I had the time to see the World Expo on a particularly hot day. The temperature was 36C with humidity. Thankfully there was free water there so we were able to keep hydrated. The pavilions were all massive and incredible in stature. There was no evidence of a global recession there! The Canadian pavillion was nice although it did not compare to other more beautiful pavillions like Italy and China.
The piano hall was a very small theater located at the Yamaha Music Center. A very intimate setting, this cramped environment proved to be one of the most unique venues. On one hand, the connection of performer to audience was intimate like a salon-type setting. On the other hand, the great CF Yamaha concert grand was very powerful and could saturate the hall with too much sound. I took the care as best I could to control the sound, and thankfully I am not a very powerful player to begin with.
My program consisted solely of French music, including Dutilleux, Debussy, Ravel and Alkan. The concert was one I will always remember, but for more unique reasons. The audience was a mixed bag of people who were very serious about music versus those who had no idea. The latter proved to be too overwhelming for my concentration. Minutes into the Dutilleux, kids were running around playing with paper bags and adults were talking on their cell phones. The noise was so deafening and the movement so eye-catching I actually broke concentration on stage for the first time in my life. I recall turning my head directly at the audience in the middle of my playing to look for the source of noise. After the Debussy I got off the stage to search for someone outside who could arrange to make an announcement about being quiet. I couldn’t find anyone, and the audience was still clapping at this time, so I headed back into the battlefield. I tried to enjoy the Ravel and Alkan as best I could. I’d have to say that my performance overall went really well, all things considered. Most people could not tell I was so easily thrown-off. What followed was a barrage of photographs and autographs. I was surprised by this response as I thought nobody was even paying attention. I certainly understand that this crowd was not representative of all music-lovers there, but since this experience I have heard of similar stories from other musicians. Perhaps this Western culture and etiquette has yet to be fully adapted.
I spent the rest of the trip as a visitor in China and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Beijing is one of the top 5 cities I have visited. There is culture there both young and very old. I can’t wait to get the opportunity to return. I just might have to keep my piano books at home, though!
Anyone who dares to play Beethoven's last Piano Sonata Opus 111 must be fearless and confident in his skills. In the case of Thomas Yu, both are true...[He] plays the piece with elegance and depth...and his interpretation was the highlight of the festival day.Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's largest newspaper, translated.