Ella Xunhuan Zhou: Concert Pianist
“Too few of us have social responsibilities, as musicians and as artists. I think some of us are afraid of taking social responsibility because we think this will affect our work as artists and the effort that we put into music or art. For me, I think it’s the opposite because we are part of the planet and what we do inspires other people and affecting other people, it’s so important for us to realise that we have this precious opportunity to highlight some subjects out to our audiences and by doing this, it will make our work even better, our music even better.
I like the Russian pianist Andrei Gavrilov, very much. He’s such a wonderful pianist and a brave man For me, he’s the only one that I see who is actively on social media speaking the truth about some real social problems that unfortunately we are facing everyday but maybe feeling too lazy to change it or even acknowledge it. For me the way he does is very inspiring and audacious. I want to be more like this kind of artist. I can’t save the world but I can do my own part and at least influence to a certain degree.
I remember one of my friend told me a story about the history and development of musicians, during the ancient time, people were using music and instruments to speak about truth, about human feelings either beauty or ugliness through singing or playing melodies. In other words, we are a type of ‘media’. In this case, I think it would be more meaningful to use this type ‘media’ as a platform to be more responsible and more engaged in this real world of full of realities. There are so many issues which are affecting us every second, every time we breathe. Things like discriminations; environmental pollutions, animal abuse etc. I can’t just stand aside, I am not that kind of person who takes the glory but not returning anything, I think we need to give in order to receive. Many musicians have reached a certain level of fame they can already be influential but they are not. I don’t have that yet, but if I ever going to make it, I hope I can change things, even just a little.
I love animals, dogs, cats and recently I joined the Wolf Conservation Group. I try to do what I can. I spread the news about adopting animals and I report animal cruelty when I see it. I’m involved in stopping the dog meat festival in Yulin, China. One of my dream is to hope one day I can build my own charity for animals, so more disease can be treated and more life can be rescued.
My dog Nunu is a Cocker Spaniel, she’s almost nine years old now. She inspires me so much, every day. When I was very young I read Jane Goodall’s book about chimpanzees and became very aware of how animals and music go together. When I’m practising I get so much vibes from Nunu. I feel her energy and that she’s a really good listener to me.
We assume animals don’t understand, but I think we just don’t know them. I prefer to have the attitude that there are other beings on the planet apart from us who do have understanding. I find the subject very interesting. Glenn Gould said he only get along with dogs. And there are many other pianists close to animals, for example, Nelson Freire and Helene Grimaud. In general I think musicians tend to be very close to the nature.
I was born in Chongqing a city in the middle of China but when I was seven my parents moved to Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong. I studied piano because my Dad was a violinist. I’ve been studying music my whole life. I’ve had many great teachers. The most recent was Professor Antonio Bezzan. He studied in Budapest when he was very young and when I met him he was seventy four years old and an amazing pianist with a vision. I think as a teacher you have to have a very good vision about where you want to lead the student and to draw the bigger picture for the student. It’s not about telling what is right and what is wrong because you are already at that level where you can judge for yourself if something is right or not. But a good teacher can unlock something in your heart that you’ve been asking yourself for so many years … something that has been inside you that you can’t get to, and then suddenly, by one click, it’s opened. I remember I was playing the Mozart Fantasia in D Minor and, (I enjoy D Minor so much), also the Bach Chromatic Fantasy. Bezzan was standing there and out of nowhere he started to tell me the haunting character of Don Giovanni in such a way that Don Giovanni came in front of my eyes and he stayed there listening to me. So whenever I play this piece, I feel that the character really is there. And also he told me stories about how he’d studied with Frederich Gulda, about his time in Budapest and how he met all those pianists from the golden age, absolutely fascinating And you could see the light in his eyes and you could picture all of them alive, it was so wonderful. Sadly Bezzan passed away last year.
I’m currently working towards a competition I hope to reach the final round so I can play concerto. All my teachers have always encouraged me to play more Mozart because of my small hands, but in my heart I wanted to play Rachmaninov. I love to play concertos and also chamber music. Last year I did the Schubert Fantasy for 4-hands with a great artist in Brazil and everybody loved it. That was a wonderful moment for me because who doesn’t love Schubert?” (Ella Xunhuan Zhou)
Ella Xunhuan Zhou performed at Markson Pianos Concert Series June 24th 2015
Mozart Fantasia no. 3 in D minor K397
Chopin Preludes no. 1 to no. 12. op 28
Beethoven Sonata no 17 in D minor Op. 31
Rachmaninoff Etude-tableaux no.8 Op 39
Nikolai Kapustin Variations Op 41
In year 2000, Ella immigrated to the UK. In Brighton, her talent was quickly discovered by Imogen Windsor and Anna Maria Tabor, under their guidance, she performed Mozart piano concerto in A Major with BHASVIC youth orchestra at age 15, at the same year her mentor Anna Maria Tabor encouraged her to also publish her composition work – The Tango Suite for string quartet. The premier was given by the soloists from Brighton Symphony Orchestra at the Brighton Friends Meeting House, the event was extremely successful and she was congratulated by the audiences and critics which has become a major motivation for her to carry on her music journey.
In year 2003, after receiving the best performance prize at the Brighton Springboard Festival, Ella moved to London and continued to study piano under Professor Roger Green from Trinity college of music, she gave recitals in many venues including the prestigious Southwark Cathedral, whilst she also pursued an undergraduate studies in Philosophy and Political Science at Keele University, at year 2006 she graduated with honours, in the following year 2007, she won 2nd prize at the Richmond Piano Festival Competition.
In 2010, she decided to move to Paris and continue her study with Professor Marian Rybicki in Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, since then, she played in various concerts across Europe including the legendary Salle Cortot. In 2011, she was invited by Prince Zur Lippe to perform her first debut at the Schloss Proschwitz in Germany.
Ella had the pleasure and honour to also participate in masterclasses given by Andrei Gavrilov and Maria Joao Pires. After Paris, in 2013 Ella moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil to continue her music career as a concert pianist and also to study with the latest Maestro Antonio Bezzan, she has performed in several festivals including the Mackenzie music series of Sao Paulo. She is now residing in Paris, Sao Paulo and London.
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