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The art of music——An interweaving of souls rather than a simple art performance

Thursday evening, September 19, 2019 on a cool autumn day, in order to enjoy a lecture about music given by a famous French Chinese pianist Xiaomei Zhu, more than 200 people gathered together in the concert hall of the Guangyue Building on the Xianlin campus of Nanjing Normal University. The School of Fine Arts was honored to have Ms. Zhu, who would conduct only four lectures in Nanjing and Shanghai, give a lecture at NNU. Also attending were Michel Mollard, a retired French financial tycoon and music lover, and Jieting Gu, a long-time piano playing partner of Ms. Zhu. Around 7 p.m., music fans from all over Nanjing who were interested came to NNU and formed a long line at the gate of the concert hall. After everybody was inside, the hall was so packed that there were even people sitting in the aisles waiting to listen to Ms. Zhu.

(From left to right are Jieting Gu, Xiaomei Zhu and Michel Mollard)
photo provided by NNU student photographer Suyu Zhang
photo provided by NNU student photographer Suyu Zhang

Xiaomei Zhu, a world-renowned French pianist of Chinese descent, is a recipient of the order of the knight of French culture and art and her interpretation of Bach's music has been praised as “the purest sound”. Her version of Goldberg Variations has caused a global sensation so tickets for her concerts are hard to come by in Europe. This legendary female pianist has made a number of recordings including The Art of Fugue which won the record award, one of France's most important music awards, and a special achievement award of at the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA). During the lecture, Ms. Zhu used herself as an example to tell about her experiences both in eastern and western contexts. She shared the experiences of conducting art and culture in different regions, and deeply discussed the expression of music art aesthetics.

When asked about her subtle connection with the piano and Bach, she said, “There was no professional piano guide for me and I had to hand copy the music score in my childhood. In the late 1960s, when I was working on the northern border of China, I took great pains to transport the piano there and practiced Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier to warm my hands. Later, when I first arrived in Paris, my landlord would complain about the sound at first, but when I started to practice Bach's Goldberg Variations, he did not complain to me again. Maybe it was at that time that I began to immerse myself in the charm of Bach's music.”

Ms. Zhu talked freely and showed the audience her understanding and perception of the art of music, “Music is the best of all the arts. In different civilizations, we all try to express what we can't. I think piano playing is not to show off skills or to make money, but to communicate with the composer spiritually in the process of playing. To me, it’s a period of interweaving of souls rather than a simple art performance. I always want to express the composer's meaning as deeply as possible. When I play, I hope people only hear Bach, not wonder or care about who's playing. I hope all of you can be concerned more about the art of music itself, and that I am just a transmitter. The way I play the piano is the same as that of what ancient Chinese Taoism tries to convey. I agree with Lao Zi’s (philosopher in the Spring and Autumn Period and the founder of Taoism) philosophy and put it into my playing.”

Because of the decades of Michel Mollard’s financial success, he was able to use his own money to finance the recording and distribution of the music of many musicians, as well as to help them in many other ways out of his love for classical music. As an old friend of Ms. Zhu, he generously lent two grand pianos at his home to Ms. Zhu and another piano player to practice with when they first met. “She impressed me so much with her performance of Bach's music,” was mentioned many times by him during the lecture. The documentary shot by Michel which features Ms. Zhu, A Chinese and BachUne Chinoise avec Bach), won the best essay film award at the 33rd Montreal Art Festival.

The whole lecture lasted nearly two hours. The audience in the concert hall listened attentively without making any noise. During the last interactive session, several audience members posed questions to Ms. Zhu and Michel, and they expressed their own understanding and ideas about the art of music.