Who or what inspired you to take up the violin, and pursue a career in music?
On my fifth birthday, my parents surprised me with a cute tiny violin as my birthday present, it was like love at first sight. I remember I always took it everywhere with me and tried to play music on that toy instrument. Over 20 years later, I can honestly say that my passion is still the same and very much alive. I fall more in love with music every day because it allows me to experience deep emotions, express indescribable feelings and in my mind, it’s the most raw and spiritual connection you can have with people.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
When I was about 10 years old, I watched a masterclass documentary “Playing by heart” on TV about violinist Maxim Vengerov in which he was teaching violin in a way I’d never seen before. The violin under his chin and the music under study was so vivid and enjoyable: he was the first to show me that music can be used to communicate a story or a scene. Suffice to say, I started to enjoy practicing right after that day. Two years ago during my study at the Royal Academy of Music I had a masterclass with Vengerov and that was like a childhood dream come true. I still remember the excitement that he inspired me, and I continue to use it to motivate me in my playing.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Finding and embracing my own musical voice. Music is a very personal thing, so when I was growing up, I found it hard sometimes to let myself completely go to that vulnerable place. As I grow more mature, I’m more capable of thinking musically, which helps me communicate my ideas to my audiences. Also, I had my first arm injury earlier this year and I had to rest for a few month without daily physical practice routine. During my recuperation, I did a lot of visualising techniques and mental practise to learn new repertoire. It was very efficient and I never felt better when I picked up my violin again learning a new piece.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Performance: A charity concert series I did in China called “Under the Same Sky”, staging concerts in support of underprivileged youths. Since 2012, more than 200 students have benefited from this charity and have been able to continue their education.
Recording: My upcoming debut album “Tango Embrace”. The disc is a collection of classic tango pieces by Astor Piazzolla, the renowned Argentinian tango composer.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I personally enjoy works from the Late Romantic era the most, but music from all different periods offers the opportunity for personal musical exploration and growth. I also enjoy playing my own arrangements and compositions.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I always choose repertoire that I am willing to perform. I think of the audience first, then the venue of the concert. For a recital, I try to combine classical repertoire with lesser-known contemporary works, as well as with works from various cultures, such as traditional Chinese music. For a recording project, I try to choose the pieces that I feel well connected with which can be very personal choices, such as my upcoming “Tango Embrace” album, I have wanted to record it for a few years.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have played in many amazing concert halls all around the world, but Carnegie Hall is, and will always be, a special place for me. The lights, the acoustic, the feeling I got from that hall is not something I think I will ever be able to describe – simply surreal.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I like to perform and listen to things that combine many musical elements. An initial connection is important for me because if I can’t connect to the work, I can’t deliver a convincing performance.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Henryk Szeryng, Itzhak Perlman, Maxim Vengerov, YoYo Ma
What is your most memorable concert experience?
A multi-cultural concert at Sydney Opera House where I was playing with musicians from all around the world. The collaboration was very moving for me because of this cultural bridge. It was a wonderful experience to be able to share music no matter what countries we are from, what languages we speak; music brought us together.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think it is really important for a 21st century classical musician to embrace different musical elements, and be open to exploration. I learnt from my mentors and those great musicians that it’s crucial to be honest with your musical intentions, and be present so that you get to enjoy the performance.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Ideally I would like my music to be recognised by wider audiences, at the same time I would like to be a more influential musician and strengthen the bridge between Asian and European culture. I would also like to continue more charity works to help people in need.
Yijia Zhang’s debut album, Tango Embrace, is released on 10 October 2015.