With border restrictions having lifted, the Academy's School of Music is back on the road, performing as well as engaging in exchange in different cities. Under the leadership of Professor Ray Wang, Head of Strings and the Junior Music Department, and a number of other teachers, students of the Strings Department travelled to Guangzhou and Shenzhen to take part in the 2023 Youth Music Culture the Greater Bay Area (YMCG) event. This was followed by a trip to Shanghai for the 38th Shanghai Spring International Music Festival. Student representatives Trevor Chan Ching-wei and James Li Chun-lam had both rarely set foot on the Mainland before this. Both remark that their first collaboration with young Mainland musicians allowed them to transcend differences and explore art together.
The weeklong YMCG 2023 was held in Guangzhou and Shenzhen in February. An ensemble of four students from the Academy performed alongside some of the Mainland's top music students, all under the coordination of Professor Ray Wang, Head of Strings as well as of the Junior Music Programme, who is also a YMCG 2023 artistic committee member.
"It wasn't easy for the students, given their packed learning schedules, to participate in YMCG 2023," Professor Wang points out. "However, they well-managed their online classes and examinations in addition to their busy daily schedules for practising, rehearsing and performing in concerts. I was fortunate to join the students, as this allowed me to witness their efforts and excellence in all the programmes. Their endeavours certainly made the Academy shine at the festival in performances that demonstrated the quality of our students."
Trevor Chan: Finding Common Ground With Music
Trevor Chan, a freshman in the Bachelor of Music (Honours) programme, was the cellist for the quartet. Trevor began learning the cello at age 5; by 6, he had been accepted into the Junior Music Programme at the Academy. This didn't always bring joy; throughout primary school, Trevor saw cello practice as little more than a chore. However, meeting more competent musicians as a member of the secondary-school orchestra made him see the weaknesses in his technique. He began to approach cello practice with greater fervour in the hope of catching up with his upperclassmen.
Trevor's alma mater Diocesan Boys' School (DBS) is known for its rigorous music training. While in high school, Trevor joined a DBS exchange tour to Europe where he took masterclasses and gained fresh exposure. "That's when I fell in love with music, and realised that life would be very difficult without it," he recalls. "It may sound like an exaggeration but it's the truth."
After finishing high school, Trevor knew with certainty that he wanted to specialise in music. He was accepted by several academies abroad but chose to attend the Academy. "I am very fond of Hong Kong," he explains. "I've been to Europe. It's beautiful and steeped in art and culture. But I love Hong Kong."
"Before he formally enrolled at the Academy, Trevor was invited by an upperclassman of the School of Music to join the string quartet. Thus began a seamless collaboration that led to Trevor getting picked by Professor Ivan Chan, Associate Professor of String Chamber Music, to perform at YMCG 2023.
"We gave one performance each in Guangzhou and Shenzhen," Trevor notes. "We also attended the masterclass of the Shanghai Quartet. These are valuable opportunities. I was extremely fortunate to be able to rehearse with professional musicians. I learnt a lot about technique simply by observing. Verbal communication wasn't always necessary."
Trevor adds that he took advantage of breaks during rehearsals to get to know the other musicians a little better, swapping notes and ideas. "I hadn't had much experience travelling on the Mainland in the past," he says. "It was a lot of fun. We discussed music and the future. Those musicians have exceptional technique. It was eye-opening."
Though still a freshman, Trevor's mind is made up. He wants to be a cellist, one who will work with musicians over the world. "The recent experiences have shown me that when musicians sit down to play the same piece, all differences fall to the wayside, and they will find common ground in the music," he says. "It's a beautiful and amazing thing."
Trevor believes that this experience has expanded his vision, so he looks forward to more performances on the Mainland. "We often say that we want to go out into the world," he notes. "But there are many excellent musicians in the Mainland too. We can consider starting from there before going out into the world."
James Li: Long Path to Professional Musician
In April, Professor Wang took the strings team to Shanghai to play at the longstanding Shanghai Spring International Music Festival. For James Li, a student in the Master of Music programme, the performances had double significance, notably because his master's graduation concert, "The Romantic Violin," was taking place in the concert hall of the music school at Shanghai University. After the graduation concert, James teamed up with other Academy and Shanghai students to perform as a quintet and octet at the "Mendelssohn Night" concert.
James says the change of venue for the graduation concert with the switch to Shanghai made him very nervous. "I was under a lot of pressure," he recounts, laughing at it now. "I began practising shortly after waking up. Then I would rehearse with my classmates at the university concert hall. After dinner, I would practise again in the hotel. Some guests complained about the noise to the hotel one night."
James began learning the piano when he was 3, and the violin at 6. By the time he graduated from primary school, he had already finished Grade 8 of the violin exams. Being a professional musician was an idea that started budding in Primary Four.
"I played on stage for the first time, and felt an enormous sense of achievement," he remembers. "After that, I became increasingly enamoured with music." After secondary school, James enrolled in the Academy Diploma programme in Music Foundations, before continuing on to a bachelor's and then master's studies at the Academy. Having spent eight years here, he feels the Academy's atmosphere is what appeals to him most. "In my earliest days at the Academy, I left the campus at 9 pm or 10 pm every night. Outside of class, all my classmates ever did was practise, practise, practise. The commitment was contagious."
James's first Shanghai exchange showed him another kind of learning culture. "The pace of rehearsals there was different," he explains. "Hong Kong is a fast-paced city. We usually finish in an hour or so. But in Shanghai, we spent a lot of time discussing the details. There were eight of us in the octet, and we all had our own views that we shared and discussed with the others, with the aim of exploring different ways of interpretation. It's a great vibe." After the concert, the students from the two cities met up to chat about music and the future, and promised to play again together should the chance arise.
As a member of the graduating class, James is actively preparing to become a full-time musician and he now has a better sense of what it means to be a professional musician. "The trip to Shanghai was led by Professor Ray Wang and Professor Ivan Chan," he says. "They had to host the masterclass and oversee rehearsals, sometimes working without a break for six or seven hours. Their work ethic and seriousness were inspiring. It really made me think. After graduation, I won't have teachers to fall back on. It's entirely up to me how to approach music and practice. I think the two professors have set an excellent example for me."