One of the key highlights in the Conservatory’s calendar this season will be Associate Professor Qin Li-Wei alongside the Conservatory Orchestra and Guest Conductor Yang Yang next Thursday 13 April at the Esplanade Concert Hall. We learn five things you may not have known about Li-Wei.
1. He started learning the cello as a ‘practical joke’ to surprise his mother
Li-Wei was born in Shanghai into a family of musicians with his mother as a pianist and father a cellist, later moving to Melbourne, Australia. He first started learning the piano from his mother at the age of four. He recalls of his childhood: “When I was about seven, my mother went on tour for a few months and my father secretly made a cello for me and taught me how to play it. When she came back, he said “Look at him! He can play the cello!” He meant it as a surprise for my mother when she came back.” The rest is history.
2. 30-40 minutes on the treadmill can help with training for on-stage stamina
In his free time, he enjoys going to the gym to exercise and listen to concerto recordings while he runs on the treadmill. “I usually run for about 30 to 40 minutes which is just about the same duration as a concerto. In the last kilometre when I’m usually extremely exhausted, I try to work out the bowing and fingering while listening to the concerto. It is really amazing training for your mind especially since you can get very tired while performing during the 3rd and 4th movements.”
3. Listening to Schubert can train one how to breathe and phrase
Li-Wei’s latest obsession is the music of Franz Schubert. He says: “Schubert’s Lieder are perfect to learn how to breathe and how to tell a story with music, because of the way he writes for the vocal line.” Li-Wei goes on to share that he would not only recommend Schubert to cellists, but for all instrumentalists to “imitate a singer’s voice in terms of breathing and creating a natural phrase”.
4. Meeting his greatest idol, Rostropovich
In 1997, Li-Wei had the chance to meet his greatest idol and inspiration, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. On Rostropovich, Li-Wei says, “He has made such a significant contribution to the expansion of the cello repertoire…and I hope to do the same, by regularly commissioning new works”. Li-Wei received a special distinction in the 1997 Rostropovich International Cello Competition and after he performed, he was approached by Rostropovich himself. An elated Li-Wei received hugs and congratulations from the master himself. “That will stay with me forever!” he says.
5. Li-Wei’s student life: ‘The 4 Year Plan’
Li-Wei started his tertiary education working towards a degree in Commerce at Melbourne University. However, after a year, he found that he couldn’t stay away from the cello for long, so he deferred his Commerce degree to study the cello in the UK. He left for England with a very clear agenda: a 4 year plan with specific goals in mind.
- Year 1: Practice intensely
- Year 2: Domestic and national competitions
- Year 3: International competition
- Year 4: Secure an agency representation
He decided that if his 4 year plan did not succeed, he would return to his commerce degree. Thankfully, his plan came to fruition. He won the silver prize at the Tchaikovsky International and first prize at the Naumburg International, as well as title of BBC New Generation Artist. At 25 years old, he received a professorship at the Royal Northern College of Music and has not looked back.
Working with the YST Orchestra
Anticipating his upcoming concert with the YST Conservatory Orchestra (YSTCO) at the Esplanade Concert Hall, Li-Wei shared his thoughts on the repertoire for the concert and the development of the YSTCO. “It’s a war oriented piece, exploring the hatred of war and sadness,” he says. “The first two movements were written when Barber was a soldier on the frontline, and the last movement were written when he returned home.”
Despite the piece being “extremely difficult” for not only the soloist, but for the whole orchestra, he commented on the capability of the students to handle such repertoire: “There is a level of sophistication with the Conservatory Orchestra now. Their level of maturity to play as an ensemble is more advanced than ever, which shows the merits of their education at the Conservatory.”
For more details about the performance on 13 April, please click here.