Meet the famous violist promoting traditional Chinese folk music



Renowned Chinese musician Su Zhen has used her mastery of the viola, a Western stringed instrument, to showcase the beauty of traditional Chinese music.

Su is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and was previously permanent deputy principal viola for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Considered one of the best Chinese violists, she has been active on the world stage for many years.

After two years of work, his new album is finally ready to be released to the public at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

Su Zhen performs at the premiere of the new album. /CGTN

Su Zhen performs at the premiere of the new album. /CGTN

The violist said every track on his new album is deeply rooted in Chinese history and culture.

“Viola is not as popular as violin or piano. We don’t have as much famous Chinese viola music,” Su said. “During my past professional experiences, my foreign colleagues asked me to present beautiful Chinese music. I said okay, but there are not so many of them. So at that time, I had this idea. I wanted to work with other musicians to produce great Chinese viola music.”

And that culminated in the new album, in which Su and other musicians adapted 10 well-known pieces of Chinese folk music for the viola.

Some pieces represent key moments in the development of the country. And some are adapted from local folk songs in areas like the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China.

“Su Zhen maximizes his understanding of different viola timbres,” said Gao Ying, director of the composition department of the China Conservatory of Music. “The alto area of ​​the viola has a warm and lyrical tone, the high tunes are bright, and the bass expresses a dark and sad feeling. I think Su Zhen is creating a universal language by using this ancient and elegant Western instrument to play. folk songs from various parts of China.”

A graduate in the 1990s from the Central Conservatory of Music, China’s top musical institution, Su was enlisted in the National Symphony Orchestra of China as assistant principal viola at the age of just 23.

Although she had beaten stiff competition to be appointed to such an important position, she did not stay in her comfort zone for long and went to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Su Zhen practices the viola. /CGTN

Su Zhen practices the viola. /CGTN

Studying with John White, President of the European Viola Association, Su won nearly every major viola award at the Royal Academy of Music.

After graduating, she was the first violist in the academy’s 180-year history to win the prestigious Director’s Award.

After working for years as a permanent assistant principal viola for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Su returned to China to teach at the Central Conservatory of Music, becoming the institution’s youngest full professor. His methods are considered quite progressive by his students.

Su Zhen teaches students. /CGTN

Su Zhen teaches students. /CGTN

“Ms. Su often told me that playing the viola is like drawing and they have something in common,” said student Liang Yangyang. “When she was in class, she often described in words the images of the music and asked me to draw them after class. That way, I could better understand what the composer wanted to express, and it became easier for me to express it.”

“I think in the future I will try my best to do more work on promoting Chinese music and Chinese musicians like I have been doing for the past few years,” Su said. “I think it will take a lifetime to do that.”

(Cover image: Su Zhen practices viola. /CGTN)


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