Top vi­o­lin­ist re­flects on mu­sic and men­tor­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By HAR­VEY MOR­RIS in Lon­don Har­vey.mor­ris@gmail.com

Dash­ing to Lon­don’s Heathrow air­port via a last-minute ap­point­ment at the BBC, Su­sanne Hou clutches a suit­ably anony­mous and well-worn can­vas vi­o­lin case con­tain­ing a 1735 in­stru­ment by the Ital­ian master Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. “I al­ways like to have it where I can see it,” said Hou.

Only a con­cert hall su­per­star gets to play on such a trea­sure and Shang­hai-born Yi-Jia Su­sanne Hou is such a star.

Raised in Canada by her Chi­nese par­ents, Hou has been per­form­ing in pub­lic for 33 of her 38 years. Her prodi­gious tal­ent took her to the Jul­liard School in New York.

The sub­se­quent award of three pres­ti­gious vi­o­lin com­pe­ti­tions in France, Italy and Spain launched her ca­reer on the world con­cert cir­cuit as she em­barked on a hec­tic sched­ule that would take her to more than 50 coun­tries. She has been to China six or seven times but knows Europe and North Amer­ica bet­ter.

She has per­formed with the world’s great­est or­ches­tras and re­ceived ac­co­lades from some of its most leg­endary fig­ures. The late vi­o­lin mae­stro Ye­hudi Menuhin said of her: “Play­ing such as this, flaw­less, filled with light and mean­ing, makes you feel shy, as if you Su­sanne Hou, were wit­ness­ing a mir­a­cle.”

Hou was in Lon­don for the per­for­mance of a work that for her is deeply per­sonal. At Cado­gan Hall at the week­end, she was soloist along­side the Royal Phil­har­monic Orchestra in a per­for­mance of The But­ter­fly Lovers vi­o­lin con­certo. The work by Chen Gang and He Zhan­hao pre­miered in 1959 in Shang­hai where Hou’s mu­si­cian par­ents at­tended the same Shang­hai Con­ser­va­tory as the com­posers.

“I grew up with the melodies of the But­ter­fly as my par­ents were al­ways singing them around the house,” Hou re­called.

The work, which adapts Chi­nese melodies for a West­ern orchestra, draws on a 4th cen­tury love story that is as fa­mil­iar to the Chi­nese as Romeo and Juliet is to the English.

“On Sun­day, there was an ex­tra­or­di­nary vi­brance in the hall,” said Hou. “Many in the au­di­ence were young stu­dents from the Chi­nese com­mu­nity.”

She left Shang­hai at the age of three and has only a sin­gle flash­back of her birth­place. “It was a ter­ri­fy­ing bike ride in the bas­ket of my fa­ther’s bike!”

Among her fa­vorites now are Brahms, Shostakovich, Schubert. “Some­times I get lost in Dvo­rak. And Mozart. If I leave him too long it weighs on my soul.”

Hou used to per­form about 100 times a year. But now she wants to use her skills for a wider pur­pose. “I don’t want to call it a mis­sion. But But­ter­fly, for ex­am­ple, is a way to con­nect with the world and our coun­tries through mu­sic.”

She also sets great store by the next gen­er­a­tion of artists who, after spend­ing thou­sands of hours study­ing, do not al­ways know what to do next. “They need guid­ance and men­tor­ing and not just from within the mu­si­cal world.”

One of Hou’s other pas­sions is food — any kind as long as it re­flects the cul­ture of the coun­tries she vis­its. “Patis­serie is my forte and I’m a bit of a per­fec­tion­ist. I did a course in Paris to learn to make mac­a­roons.”

She’s won­der­ing if she’ll have a chance at Heathrow to catch her English favourite. “I just love fish and chips!”

I don’t want to call it a mis­sion. But for ex­am­ple, is a way to con­nect with the world and our coun­tries through mu­sic.” vi­o­lin­ist. Shang­hai-born

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Su­sanne Hou re­hearses with the Royal Phil­har­monic Orchestra in Lon­don.

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