Virtuoso Horn Duo in China

Posted By on October 30, 2008

It has taken me some time to get around to it, but I am finally free from other
obligations enough to write a little bit about the trip to Beijing that Kristina and I
recently underwent. The occasion was the 2nd Beijing Horn Festival, organized by
Professor Han Xiao Ming. The venue was the Beijing National Conservatory, and the event
took place the first week of October, right in the middle of the largest folk festival in
China, something they call “The Golden Days”. Because of this huge and very popular
festival, there were hundreds of thousands of people from all over China visiting
Beijing. This event however did not seem to hinder students from various provinces of the country from
attending the week’s activities at the conservatory.

Xiao Ming had invited Kristina and me to travel to Beijing to not only teach private
lessons in whichever format we deemed best, but also to work with ensembles, perform a
small recital and generally fill the students with enough enthusiasm to last them for a
while, or at least until the next horn festival.

So directly on the heels of our performances in Poland, Kristina and I boarded the plane
in Frankfurt and flew to Peking. This was my third trip to China and Kristina’s first. We
were generously housed at the Minzu Hotel, only a couple of kilometers from Tienanmen
Square and The Forbidden City and we were met at the airport by two students of Han Xiao
Ming, Mr. Li Tao and Mr. Yang Wen. These two young men took marvelous care of us the
entire time we were there! They really did not want to leave our sides and served not
only as guides and organizers, but translated the lessons and the narrative during the
concert as well.

Kristina explains the finer points of Mozart interpretation to a young student at the Beijing Horn Festival while Li Tao translates.We had decided to organize the four days of teaching into a masterclass format.
Consequently, I would teach a student, and then Kristina would perhaps make a comment or
two, and then we would switch so that she taught and I put “my two cents worth in”, that
is, if I felt the need to do so. This particular arrangement was rather interesting in
the end. Kristina and I have very different approaches to teaching, especially in a
masterclass setting. Whereas she tends to focus on, let’s say, the more psychological and
humanistic aspects of the student’s playing, I tend to work on the more physical side of
horn playing, for instance, pointing out curious alternate fingerings, accepted liberties
in changing dynamics and phrasing, recounting anecdotes about performances gone terribly
wrong, etcetera. As one could imagine, this type of teaching- from both of us- requires a
great deal of talking, and we were challenging our translator (Mr. Li Tao) to the hilt to
correctly translate difficult and deep concepts. A surprise visit from the celebrated Mr.
Meng Po (Paul Meng), who speaks absolutely fluent English, presented us the opportunity
to assess just how much of the translation Li Tau was getting right. And apparently he
was doing an absolutely smashing job!

Xiao Ming had been gracious enough to allow a good deal of sightseeing during our 8 days
in Beijing. Thus we were able to visit the Forbidden City, the Great Wall (my first trip
there) and the Lama Temple. Dan, Lora, Kristina and I visited the Lama Temple in Beijing.We were also able to shake our guides from time to time, mostly evenings,
and wander off into the Hu Tongs to experience another fascinating side of Chinese life.
I have to mention that we ate like kings the entire time we were there! A delightfully
unexpected turn of events arose with the arrival of my old childhood chum from San
Antonio, Mr. Daniel Vimont and his wife Lora. Lora had just accepted a teaching job at
the international school in Tianjin, only about an hour’s train trip from Beijing.Enjoying Peking Duck with current and former students of Prof. Xiaoming Han during the Beijing Horn Festival The
two of them hung out with us for a good portion of our stay. We even took a long taxi ride
together over to the more western quarter of the city where we ate at an Italian
restaurant and found a Belgian beer bar!

On one of the evenings, Mr. Meng Po, along with the vice-president and the president of
the China Horn Society, took us out for a spectacular meal at a traditional Mongolian Hot
Pot restaurant. The food, drink and conversation were all of the highest calibre. We
learned about interesting developments in the horn world in China and discussed future
plans. I was also delighted to find out that my music is very popular there and that it
has been so for some time now. What a thrill for me to hear that musicians in China are
performing my compositions!

On a somewhat more nostalgic note, I was moved at one point in the masterclasses. While
watching Kristina teach, I suddenly remembered the documentary from the late 70’s- “From
Mao to Mozart”. In this unique documentary the Chinese government had invited, for the
first time in many years, the great American violinist Mr. Issac Stern to travel to China
and give the very first masterclasses from the west in the history of the communist
government there. It was a milestone, not only in international relations and the opening
up of the “New China”, but for the music world as well. I remembered that documentary very well. And I really never ever imagined that I would be doing the very same thing, in the footsteps of Issac Stern, in China. There is enormous talent in
China! Teaching these young musicians the finer points of western classical music
interpretation and challenging them to higher levels of expertise is without a doubt an
investment in the future of the world’s fine arts arena.

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