NEW YORK—Originally from Shanghai, violin student Tong Yan won first place in the International Chinese Violin Competition hosted by NTDTV this past weekend. She just finished her studies at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and is now looking forward to completing her masters degree at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
ET: When did you start playing the violin?
Tong: I started playing at the age of five. My mom chose the violin for me. When I was nine or ten, I really liked playing the violin because it becomes a part of your life. It’s just as natural like breathing, and you can’t live without breathing.
ET: How did you learn about the competition?
Tong: Just one month ago a friend from Australia told me about the competition—quite a short time for me to prepare. I had just come back from a festival in Bar Harbor.
ET: Why do you think the violin is so popular today?
Tong: The violin is not only a instrument. It’s a tool to express ones feelings. Like singing, it’s something deeper. You can express the nature of things.
ET: Do you have something special in mind while you are performing, a story or a thought?
Tong: Not all the time. But for certain melodies, I really have a scene or story in my mind.
ET: Do you think it’s possible to divide the music from its inner meaning?
Tong: You can divide it. Sometimes during playing I don’t think of anything. I just follow the music and make it beautiful!
ET: Music is often referred to as a language without words.
Tong: I agree it’s a language, but it’s something with more depth. It’s not like the spoken word. Music can express something like inner strength—something spiritual.
Maybe it’s like a language from another space. Sometimes you cannot explain something with words. Often, when you are on stage, performing with others or in an orchestra, there comes the state where everybody just knows what to do. You don’t have to tell them play louder or get slower; everybody just knows it from the music.
Here in our world we have war. If music were a world, I don’t think there’d be any war or fighting.
Something else, I find, is very important for a musician: Some people pretend to be this and that. But that’s not for me. Nature is the most important thing. Just to be a person and natural.