Prof. Liu Yuening, a yangqin exponent from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, talks about her tryst with Indian musicians and finding a meeting point between the two music traditions
Meeting Prof. Liu Yuening proves to be an enlightening experience. Her child-like excitement when she greets me belies her status as one of China's most famous yangqin performers. Her connection with India, which she says “has become a second home in recent times,” is only getting stronger with each passing month.
Laurels sit lightly on Prof. Liu, who teamed up with Mandolin U. Shrinivas for the second time (“We played in Singapore early this year”) at the opening concert of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest. Having worked with Hindustani musicians, she is as enchanted by Carnatic notes.
Showing me the notations for the ‘Navaragamalika varnam', Liu looks thrilled. “I played this piece with the Madras String Quartet at the fest's inauguration. It sounded difficult initially, but once I understood the nuances, it came to me easily,” she says in her Chinese-laced English.
Prof. Liu, who has made a name for herself across continents with her sheer mastery over her instrument, recalls, “My first brush with India was with the film song ‘Awara Hoon' which I heard as a 12-year-old.” And then hums it for me.
Ever since, India and its musical tradition have held her fascination. “I stayed in Delhi for eight months, listening to all kinds of Indian music, even Bollywood! I learnt the santoor from Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, and got myself one.” She cherishes the drive to Jammu and Srinagar. “It was awesome,” she smiles. She has also played in Kolkata with sitar player Pandit Prateek Choudhary.
Her other Indian link has to do with Rabindra Sangeet. “Tagore is very popular in China. I chanced upon his songs and am hooked to them.” Liu has lent a Mandarin touch to the bard's songs, which will be released as a book next month.
Liu, whose mother is a doctor and father a businessman, got an opportunity to learn to play the yangqin when “one of my father's friends, a yangqin exponent, visited home. He played the instrument, and I instantly fell in love with its sound. That's when my father asked his friend to teach me. When I was 12, I joined the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and have been there for 34 years now!”
Today, a professor at the conservatory, Liu is only too happy to share her musical knowledge with many aspirants, while using her position to collaborate with musicians from the across the world. She plans to hold a grand fest in October 2012 in China, where she would invite many Indian musicians to play with the National Symphony Orchestra. “My aim is to take Indian music to China and find a meeting point between the two music traditions.”
As part of her endeavour, she founded the first yangqin ensemble called Jasmine, and has released more than 10 albums in China and overseas.
When not travelling (she has a gruelling schedule ahead with trips to Europe and the U.S.), Prof Liu is happy teaching (she holds special classes for the visually-challenged) or net-chatting with her 21-year-old son, who is studying Economics in the U.S.
“My talent is a gift from God and I want to use it for a purpose. I am not religious but seek happiness in small things. I believe my music is an extension of me.”