Welcomes Violinist Angelo Xiang Yu
By Denny Patterson
Winner of the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2010, violinist Angelo Xiang Yu is excited and eager to perform with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra (SFSO) for its season opener. The Master Work Series I is scheduled for November 28-29 and December 1, 2018, and audiences are invited to watch Yu perform the magnificent works of Beethoven. Yu brings an astonishing technique, exquisite tone, and exceptional musical maturity to this revered concerto. Yu has traveled across the world performing in several renowned venues, such as Konzerthaus Berlin, Louvre Auditorium in Paris, National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, Bennett Gordon Hall in Chicago, and Symphony Hall in Boston. I had the pleasure of chatting more with Yu about his upcoming concert with the SFSO and his passion for the art of music.
Why don’t you go ahead and start by telling me a little bit more about your upcoming performance with the SFSO.
This is my first time performing with this orchestra and also with this conductor, so I am very excited and eager to perform with them. There will be a couple of performances and obviously each time will be a new experience. This concerto is considered to be the most difficult for violin and it’s one I never get tired of. It’s so beautiful, I can listen to it again and again, and it’s probably also the longest concert that has been written for violin. So, with all the challenges and excitement, I am very looking forward to it.
Fabulous. I hear Maestra Sebrina Alfonso is wonderful to work with.
Yes, I have heard the same thing. I am very excited to meet her in person finally.
You are going to perform Beethoven numbers with the orchestra. Has Beethoven always been a major musical inspiration to you?
Yes. I think if you are a classical musician, you always relate to Beethoven at some point in your life. In my opinion, he is the one composer I look up to the most. You can never really get tired of his music. Even though I have played the same piece over a hundred times, I can always discover new things every time I perform it. That’s the beauty of Beethoven.
Who are some of your other musical influences?
There are so many. As a violinist, I am lucky to have a great repertoire. When I play Mozart, I feel so connected that I don’t even need to think twice about it. It’s in my personality. Schubert is another one of my favorite composers. Even though he lived a short life, he was a genius. Bach, Hayden, there’s just so many.
What is your favorite part about performing?
First of all, traveling. I like to travel to new places. More than half of the time during the year, I am on the road and performing with different orchestras, recitals, and chamber music in different cities around the world. I like to meet new people and be in different environments and discover new cultures in different places. That is something I really enjoy, but the downside is I don’t like to fly that much. I don’t like to stay in hotels either, but you have to do that if you want to perform constantly. Another favorite part about performing is that each and every performance is unique. You can easily buy a CD and it sounds perfect. After a hundred times, it still sounds the same. The person inside the stereo is not going to play something different. Even though I have played Beethoven’s Concerto many times, I play the piece with a different orchestra and it is different each time because every day we feel differently. The audience gets to appreciate and experience it in a unique way and it will never happen again. Even if you ask me to play exactly the same, it’s impossible. So, I think the spontaneity in the performance is something I value the most. That’s why I always wanted to do live performances instead of being recorded where people can just listen to it over and over. You also feel the connection with the audience.
Where did your passion for playing the violin come from? How did it all begin?
When I was little, about 2-3 years old, normally you would not expect a child at that age to speak very fluently. I could sing very well after hearing a song on the radio. I could repeat it immediately and my parents thought that I was very musical and talented. I could also tell the difference in pitches. So, my parents brought me to a music teacher and my teacher said that I have very good hands. My fingers are great for musicians and that I should be a pianist. My parents thought buying a piano would be too expensive but saw a violin above the piano that was small. Because it was small, they thought they could afford that and start me out with the violin. I think they made the right choice because I can express myself without boundaries through the violin. It’s like my human voice.
If you didn’t play the violin, is there another instrument you might have picked up, or would you be in a completely different profession?
I would say I would probably be a pianist, a flutist, or a cellist. If not a musician, I think I would be a geologist. Like a tour guide because I love travel. Maybe a chef at a five-star restaurant because I love to cook as well.
What is the biggest challenge of being a professional violinist?
Constantly being under pressure and constantly being under the spotlight. Everything is under a microscope. Even if you had a bad day or you have a stomachache or the flu, you still have to give the best version of yourself to the audience and perform. When I don’t feel well, I give it my best, but the result is usually not what I hoped or expected. Also, with the stress of being under the spotlight, every note played has to be perfect and I don’t think many people understand that. Being a violinist is challenging, but it’s also rewarding because it’s so joyful. I think it’s like conquering Mount Everest in some ways. Keep yourself healthy and really condition yourself to make sure you are always ready to perform your best. It can be very difficult, especially with jet lag and traveling and tiredness, but it’s worth it in the end.
What do you hope audiences take away from your performances?
I just want them to enjoy it. I think nowadays, a lot of people don’t go to classical music concerts because they are a little scared that they might not understand what it is. They think this is only for somebody who really knows classical music or is a scholar who studies classical music and appreciates it. That is a big mistake. All my classical music friends and colleagues are very forgiving and all we ask is that you come to the concert, sit down, relax, and enjoy what you are hearing. As long as you don’t hate what you are hearing, that’s just enough. If you hear the “Beethoven Concerto” and thought, oh that’s really nice, that would be great. You don’t need to know Beethoven, but his music will touch you immediately and it’s a universal language. Music is a universal language. No matter what language you speak, anyone can understand and feel the emotions of the music. I am really excited to play this piece and I am sure they will love it. They will also realize that classical music is not boring and that it’s very beautiful.
What kind of emotions do you feel once you start playing?
That depends on the different pieces I play and who the composers are.
How do you prepare yourself for a concert?
Many people have certain kinds of rituals, but for me, even if I did sleep well the night before, I try to take a nap, but not fall asleep in the afternoon. Only if I have the luxury to do it and there’s no dress rehearsal. I also try to eat a very healthy, but sort of good meal about 2-3 hours before the concert. Most of my friends cannot eat anything before a concert, but I am the opposite because I need the protein. I need the energy. I also like to be in quiet places throughout the day and some light hiking for some body circulation. I don’t like to play too much as I want to save my energy and give my best to the audience.
What would you say has been some of your most memorable concerts?
I could write a book about it [laughs].
My last question to you is what do you personally hope to take away from this experience, performing with the SFSO?
Every performance is unique. I am hoping to discover even more about Beethoven’s “Concerto.” It is something that I want to perform throughout my life if possible. If I need to go to a desert and can only bring one piece, it would be this “Concerto.” I am very lucky and feel very honored to be able to perform this piece with the SFSO.