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Sun, sea and symphony

China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-04


Wan Jieni, renowned pianist and artistic director of the Hainan Island International Music Festival, is congratulated by conductor Jaap van Zweden at the opening concert held on Dec 10 at the Haikou Bay Performance Center. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Hainan music festival strikes a chord with visitors, Chen Bowen reports in Haikou.

This December, sea breeze lent a romantic touch to the coconut groves in South China's Hainan province. Soft and warm, it added to the joy of the musical gathering.

Under the theme of "Making Cultural Dialogue, Boosting Cooperation through Music", the first Hainan Island International Music Festival was held from Dec 10 to Dec 24 in Haikou, capital city of Hainan.

Every weekend for a month, international artists, Grammy Awards winners and world-class orchestras gathered in the tropical city, where both classical and modern music were performed by musicians old and young alike. The concerts were held at the city's many natural and cultural landmarks, turning Haikou into a city where melodies strengthen its ties with the rest of the world.

"We seek to promote Hainan's cultural prosperity and build an international cultural exchange platform, in an effort to enhance the international caliber of the Hainan Free Trade Port and make Haikou a city of music," said renowned pianist Wan Jieni, who is also the artistic director of the Hainan Island International Music Festival.

Around 100 top musicians from all over the world, including Jaap van Zweden, current music director of both the New York and the Hong Kong Philharmonic orchestras, and one of the top conductors in the world, gathered to perform the opening concert held on Dec 10 at the Haikou Bay Performance Center. Van Zweden led the festival orchestra with Wan in a Ludwig van Beethoven-centric program: Egmont Overture, the Third Piano Concerto and the monumental Fifth Symphony.

Van Zweden said after the concert that he liked the encore piece very much, which is a work featuring Hainan elements, The Happy Woman Soldiers Suite from the ballet The Red Detachment of Women, and that he was quite moved by the audience's enthusiasm. He believed that the opening concert was a success. "I enjoyed my time in Hainan, particularly the natural scenery of Haikou. I look forward to coming back to the Hainan Island International Music Festival next time," the conductor said.


A flash mob activity is held in the Temple of Five Lords in Haikou on Dec 16. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When asked why the opening concert focused on the works of Beethoven, Wan said that many Chinese people are very familiar with the composer. "We chose Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, also known as Symphony of Destiny, in the opening concert, because it is from C minor to C major. The musical development process also indicates that we can overcome difficulties in life, as long as we never give up and have perseverance," she explained.

Wan comes to Haikou every year to both perform and rest. She has witnessed the city's fast development, including that of its coastline, where a number of fashionable and well-designed high-rises have sprung up.

Wan noted that every time she runs along the coastal path under the Haikou Century Bridge at sunrise, she always thinks of the classical melodies of Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Sergey Rachmaninoff and others.

She said the idea of holding an international music festival in Haikou dawned on her three years ago. "Haikou has a unique natural landscape, Hainan island is a famous international tourism destination, and music is the language of the world. It is really romantic to present an international festival centered around music, culture and artistic dialogue by the sea, combining the trend of art, local culture and the marine landscape of Haikou."

Xu Mo, a 39-year-old classical music enthusiast from Shanghai, has often traveled to Berlin and Salzburg to attend music festivals. "I'm amazed to see the world's top conductor and pianist tonight. For locals and tourists, the opening concert is definitely a grand musical and cultural feast. I think the continuous applause is the best praise and gratitude to the musicians," he said.

Lyu Siqing and Major Ensemble concert brought the Eternal Four Seasons, which comprises Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, to music fans in Haikou on the evening of Dec 12. After the performance of Vivaldi's and Piazzolla's works, Lyu and the orchestra returned three times to the audience's enthusiastic applause and wrapped up the whole concert performing the classic The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto.

Xing Boshen, 25, a local music fan, admitted that he immediately burst into tears when he heard Lyu perform his rendition of The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, pushing the concert to its climax.

"It was said that Hainan is a cultural desert. But under the construction of Hainan Free Trade Port, the tropical island has quickly developed culture and art industries, and now it has successfully held international music festivals, film festivals and exhibitions," he said.

Xing added that he noticed some interesting details while attending the concert. The locals like to wear slippers and shorts throughout the year on the island, but for the concert, they all dressed formally to learn and appreciate the music.

He was more than happy to see such an international music festival held in the city. "For young people, after a whole day's work, we can release ourselves by listening to and appreciating the beautiful music which resonates with our feelings," he said.


The Wave Jazz Party on the center lawn of Sky Mountain, Haikou Bay, on Dec 23. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Liu Bingqian, 29, came to Hainan from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in 2016.She attended the Wave Jazz Party of the festival on Dec 23 and 24. While Grammy-winning Cameroonian multi-instrumentalist Richard Bona and his Asante Trio performed, Liu and her friends danced in front of the stage along with the jazz. "I've practiced swing dance, which goes perfectly with the jazz music, and I sincerely hope that Hainan will have more music events like this," she said.

During the festival, there were also flash mob activities across the city. For example, in the Qilou Old Street, which features a stylish fusion of European, Southeast Asian and traditional Chinese architecture, a music flash mob is "a perfect collision of Eastern and Western cultures", Xing said. "The historical street and the music is a perfect combination."

He is looking forward to seeing that the next festival will have more Hainan culture and music elements like folk songs of the Li and Miao ethnic groups and Hainan Eight Tunes, referring to the eight types of musical instruments made of materials cultivated in the province, in the performances.

"When music kisses the waves and the coconut grove, it will certainly spark our imagination. In December, we give free rein to the tons of imagination that music brings in Haikou," Wan said.