Shanghai-based Spaniard builds up fan base tickling the ivories
Spanish pianist Mario Alonso, who has been in Shanghai for over seven years, rates the city as his favorite after performing in over 100 concerts in various cities across China.
"It's modern and convenient, with a lot of friendly people," the Spaniard, who speaks fluent Mandarin and even a bit of Shanghai dialect, told Shanghai Daily.
Alonso started learning the piano at the age of 9. His parents supported him even though none of them is musician. He studied piano in Russia, the Netherlands and Italy, and showed early potential by winning 15 national and international awards, including the Panama International Piano Competition in 2006.
But Alonso is more interested in performing around the world than just winning awards.
His first trip to China was in 2014, but his relationship with the country began much earlier. Alonso helped organize a Spanish music festival in Madrid in 2012, and arranged for two Chinese musicians to give performances and master classes.
In 2016, Alonso made another trip to China and took on the challenge of giving 25 performances in 23 cities across the country in 35 days.
"It was like a marathon," he said. "That tour also made me realize how big this country is, with its different customs and cultures. I also got to see a lot of beautiful concert halls."
Alonso said that when he performs in Europe, senior citizens make up the majority of the audience, and their reactions are usually calm and quiet.
"Chinese audiences, on the other hand, express their emotions and passion more openly," he said.
"They will cheer for me, approach me for photos, and even engage in some light conversation after the performances, which I thoroughly enjoy."
The Spaniard is also impressed by the diverse age range of the Chinese audience.
"I often see children in the audience," he said. "They may be music students, and their parents may have studied instruments as well. I believe that music is still in its infancy in this country and thus has a bright future."
All these observations prompted Alonso to stay back in Shanghai and China.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he would give 30 to 50 performances throughout China in a year. With the performing arts market recovering this year, his next performance in Shanghai is scheduled for May, in which he will collaborate with local violinist Wu Zhengyu.
"When I perform in different cities and venues, I schedule my program list accordingly," Alonso explained.
"I can perform all the classical pieces, including the demanding ones like Liszt's, in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
"In smaller cities, however, I choose more melodious pieces that are more approachable to the general public."
Through music, Alonso has introduced Spanish composers like Isaac Albeniz, Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados to Chinese audiences.
He has also learned Chinese songs, such as "Jasmine Flower" and "Liuyang River," to get the Chinese audience more involved.
Alonso enjoys cooking and running and has participated in the Shanghai International Half Marathon.
He likes to wander around Shanghai and listen to people talk. That is how he learned Mandarin and some Shanghainese slang.
Alonso last visited his relatives in Spain in December. He had not seen them for over three years due to travel restrictions during the pandemic.
"Every time I return to Spain, I tell friends who are interested in China about my life in Shanghai," he said.
"I'm aware that some concerts and celebrations will be held in Spain to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Spain. I intend to invite some Chinese musician friends to Spain to participate in the events," he said.