The Orchestra’s newest musician, violinist Julia Li, is on her first tour with the Philadelphians. Among the highlights: residency activities in her native Beijing, and a side-by-side concert with the Shenzhen Symphony. She shares her thoughts on China, her favorite orchestra (guess which one it is), and how she almost ended up playing accordion instead of violin.
Q: What was it like to be performing in China as a member of The Philadelphia Orchestra?
Julia Li: I am very honored to be a member of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Sharing our music with my home country makes me even more proud. I feel connected with both my colleagues on stage and with the audience members. That makes this experience even more special to me.
Q: Did you have family or friends in the audience there? What was their reaction?
A: I grew up in Beijing until I immigrated with my family to the United States. My parents, who presently reside in Houston, made a trip to China around the same time and attended the concerts. My parents have been supportive throughout my life and used to attend all of my concerts, but they had not seen me perform with the Orchestra until this tour. They were blown away by the concerts and were very happy and proud that I was a part of it.
Q: How important is it for students in China today to have an opportunity to see an orchestra like Philadelphia? Have you had a chance to meet with students on this trip?
A: I think it's very important for students to see performances. I still remember some concerts I attended as a child (nothing like The Philadelphia Orchestra, though still memorable) and the huge impact they made. Concert-going is so important for students and professionals alike. I continue to go to many concerts today. Seeing world class musicians live in action can renew our passion and purpose for what we do as well as motivate us to keep striving toward our endless goals. I didn't get a chance to work with any students. Until a week ago I myself was still a music student at Juilliard! I graduated in spirit on May 23 during our second concert in Beijing!
Q: How old are you? (I’m sure you are much too young to remember the historic 1973 Philadelphia Orchestra visit.) What is your first memory of The Philadelphia Orchestra? Did the Orchestra have an influence on you as a young musician?
A: I was born in 1989, so I missed the first tour by just a couple of years. My VERY first memory of The Philadelphia Orchestra is Disney's Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse and Maestro Stokowski! It's one of my favorite films. One of my first thoughts after winning the audition was, “I’m in the orchestra that made Fantasia!”
But, I also remember my first live Philadelphia Orchestra concert very well. It was the opening gala of the 2007-08 season. Anne-Sophie Mutter played the Brahms Violin Concerto. This was my first year as a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, and I was utterly in awe. I fell in love with this orchestra from the very beginning, and dreamt of being on stage at Verizon Hall with these fantastic musicians. There were many, many more unforgettable concerts that followed, and I'm sure there are many more still to come!
Q: You started playing violin at age seven—is that right? What was the culture like then? And how have things changed since then for young musicians in China?
A: I started formal lessons at seven with no intention of ever becoming a professional musician. Back then it wasn't normal for kids to play western instruments. True story, I was asked to choose between violin and accordion because those were the instruments my family owned. Every now and then I sigh a sigh of relief that I did not pick the accordion. If I did, I would probably be traveling with a monkey with cymbals on my shoulder instead of playing Mahler No. 1. I think my parents started me on violin to keep me well rounded and out of trouble. They also happen to love classical music. But now, I think it's almost expected that every family with the means to start their children in music do so. Access to western culture is made so much easier with the aid of the internet and globalization.
Q: This is your first time touring with the Orchestra. What have been the highlights?
A: Every concert has been special in its own way. I realized how much I love this orchestra when I was rotated off from the concert in Macao. Because I didn't get to play with everyone for a few days the Tokyo concerts that followed were especially amazing experiences for me. I keep looking forward to the next performance, and I know Yannick will have something different and exciting in store for us!