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Tianjin Plus Speaks to Cornelius Chiu of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra


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On 4 February the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be gracing Tianjin Grand Theatre with its presence and performance. 2013 looks set to be an exciting year for classical music enthusiasts in Tianjin and the CSO’s performance is one of the many world class acts that will be coming to the city in the coming months. Leading up to the performance we caught up with the CSO’s star violinist, Cornelius Chiu, to get an insight into his life as a musician and find out what the audience can expect from his group’s upcoming appearance at the TGT.

Can you tell us a bit about your professional background as a musician?
I have been in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 17 years, and was chosen by then Music Director Daniel Barenboim to join the first violins. I did all my training at the Indiana University School of Music. My main teachers were Franco Gulli, Yuval Yaron and Josef Gingold. I also had many chamber music coaching sessions with Rostislav Dubinsky of the Borodin Quartet, Menahem Pressler and Janos Starker. I started playing the violin at the age of six and my brother, Frederic Chiu, is a concert pianist, and I believe quite well known in China, having worked with many Chinese orchestras, conductors and composers.

You have a special connection to Tianjin. What memories do you have of the city and how does it feel to be performing in China?

My father’s family has its roots in Tianjin, and he still has cousins that live in Tianjin. Actually I have a connection with almost every city the orchestra is visiting on this tour! My mother’s family is from Beijing; my mother went to high school in Taiwan (the first place we visit); my father went to college and taught at a high school in Hong Kong; I have still relatives in Shanghai; my wife is Korean, and I have my in laws family living in Seoul. I first went to Tianjin in early 1989 as part of a friendship tour. It was during that time that I first met my second cousins, aunt and uncle who still live in Tianjin, and still have many memories of a dumpling dinner at their apartment, as well as riding on a bike with many hundreds of bicyclists with my cousin to his workplace.

I returned to China in 2009 with the Chicago Symphony on its first China tour. I met all my relatives, both in Shanghai and Beijing (the same cousin that I went biking with in 1989 picked me up in Beijing in 2009 in a beautiful car driven by a chauffeur!). All my relatives were living in a very spacious townhouse- very different from the drab concrete floor one in 1989.

I was so impressed with how much China had changed and how prosperous it was, and even though I had heard from my father, who returned in 2004, about the improvements, actually seeing it for myself and being there made a huge impression on me.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the current Chinese classical music scene? How do you see it developing over the next few years?
Because I was born in the US and never lived in China, it is hard even with my Chinese heritage to know exactly what the current classical music scene in China is like- except in generalities such as the tremendous interest in classical music not only in China but in other Asian countries such as Korea and Japan. Just judging by the sheer musical talent that is flooding the famous music schools in the USA from before I was a student to even more so now, and also the famous Chinese classical stars such as Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang, it is obvious that China is at the forefront of being one of if not THE dominant force in classical performing arts; especially in the realm of classical pianists and strings instrumentalists, much in the same way that Jewish artists were a generation or two ago.  


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