Re­viv­ing a sound from the past The ac­cor­dion is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity again af­ter decades in ob­scu­rity, and Chi­nese stu­dents are even win­ning awards abroad. Chen Nan re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - YOUTH -

When Cao Xiao­qing started learn­ing the ac­cor­dion at the age of 5 in 1970, the in­stru­ment was very pop­u­lar in China.

“You can play every­thing on it, pop songs, folk tunes and chords, and the in­stru­ment is por­ta­ble,” says Cao, 52.

Cao’s un­cle and fa­ther were am­a­teur ac­cor­dion play­ers, who played the in­stru­ment at home.

How­ever, in the past decades, other Western in­stru­ments, such as the pi­ano, the vi­o­lin and the cello, have dom­i­nated the clas­si­cal music scene. The ac­cor­dion has a small fol­low­ing among music learn­ers in China.

So, when the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Music launched its ac­cor­dion ma­jor in 2004, Cao was in­vited to take the po­si­tion as the first di­rec­tor of the ac­cor­dion de­part­ment at the school.

“I took the job be­cause I wish to re­vive the in­stru­ment,” says Cao, who taught at the Hochschule fuer Musik, The­ater und Me­dien Han­nover (Hanover Univer­sity of Music, Drama and Me­dia) in Ger­many from 2001 to 2003.

Cao grad­u­ated from the Tian­jin Con­ser­va­tory of Music in 1988 and later ob­tained his PhD from the Hanover Univer­sity of Music, Drama and Me­dia in 2001.

In May, four of his stu­dents stood out among 78 com­peti­tors from 22 coun­tries and dom­i­nated the 54th Klin­gen­thal In­ter­na­tional Ac­cor­dion Com­pe­ti­tion, which was held from May 15 to 21 in Ger­many.

“It’s the first time in this com­pe­ti­tion that four first prizes were awarded to stu­dents from one coun­try, let alone from the same school,” says Cao.

“Ever since the ac­cor­dion per­for­mance ma­jor was launched in 2004, we have sent stu­dents to the Klin­gen­thal In­ter­na­tional Ac­cor­dion Com­pe­ti­tion. Some of them had won prizes pre­vi­ously, but this year is a mile­stone for us. It’s like a dream come true for me.”

The com­pe­ti­tion, an an­nual event, at­tracts ac­cor­dion play­ers from all over the world. It is open to soloists as well as duos and bands.

One of the win­ners is Mao Jun­hao, 20, who is in his third year at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Music.

His reper­toire at the com­pe­ti­tion com­prised Dan­ish con­duc­tor and com­poser Ole Sch­midt’s Toc­cata No 1, Ital­ian com­poser Do­minico Scar­latti’s Sonata in f mi­nor and Rus­sian com­poser Eferm Podgaits’ Con­certo No 1 for Bayan and Cham­ber Orches­tra.

The win­ners in each cat­e­gory also per­formed at the Ber­liner Phil­har­monie af­ter the com­pe­ti­tion. They recorded an al­bum, in which Mao per­formed Fin­nish com­poser Paavo Kor­pi­jaakko’s third move­ment of Sonata No 1, Ul­tra.

“I was the sec­ond to per­form in the fi­nal round, and af­ter my per­for­mance, I re­turned to my room which is near the com­pe­ti­tion venue. About three hours later, I was told that I had won,” says Mao, who bagged the first prize at the con­test in 2013. In May, he won the first prize again in the com­pe­ti­tion.

“I was ex­cited about the prize but I also felt the pres­sure. The next time when I com­pete or per­form, the au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tion will be high.”

Mao, who was born and raised in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince, started learn­ing the ac­cor­dion at the age of 6 af­ter a rel­a­tive gave him the in­stru­ment.

The young man, who learned the in­stru­ment faster than his peers, says he never felt bored prac­tic­ing.

He en­rolled to study at the mid­dle school af­fil­i­ated to the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Music in Beijing in 2010 un­der Cao.

Mao is also ma­jor­ing in com­pos­ing. Be­sides clas­si­cal music, he is also in­ter­ested in elec­tronic music.

In 2012, he re­leased his de­but al­bum, Song for Sea­sons, which com­prises his ac­cor­dion works. His own com­po­si­tion, called Chil­dren Suite: Song for Sea­sons, was also in­cluded in the al­bum.

Mean­while, Mao will pur­sue his mas­ter’s de­gree at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Music af­ter ob­tain­ing his bachelor’s de­gree. In Novem­ber, he will do two recitals in Ser­bia, and in early 2018, he will do one in the Czech Repub­lic.

Cao says that the Klin­gen­thal event’s sig­nif­i­cance among ac­cor­dion play­ers is like that of the In­ter­na­tional Fred­er­ick Chopin Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion among pi­anists, which takes place in Poland’s cap­i­tal, Warsaw, ev­ery year.

“With their awards, these young mu­si­cians will have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to per­form abroad. Their suc­cess will en­cour­age more young Chi­nese to learn about the ac­cor­dion,” says Cao.

Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Mao with his pro­fes­sor Cao Xiao­qing (right) af­ter win­ning the first place in May in Ger­many.

Ac­cor­dion player Mao Jun­hao, 20, a ju­nior stu­dent at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Music, per­forms con­cer­tos with an orches­tra at the 54th Klin­gen­thal In­ter­na­tional Ac­cor­dion Com­pe­ti­tion held over May 15-21 in Ger­many.

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