Cellist Wang Jian believes high-quality music is in the details

Ma Yue
Renowned cellist Wang Jian conducted his first open master class, imparting knowledge and musical insights at the International Cello Festival.
Ma Yue

Well-known cellist Wang Jian began a teaching career a year ago when he moved back to his native Shanghai.

The 56-year-old is now the orchestral department professor and doctorate supervisor at his alma mater, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Wang teaches a master class every week, and his students range from middle school to college and post-graduate students.

Wang conducted his first open master class as part of the music school's International Cello Festival, during which he gave one-on-one instructions to four students and shared his abilities and understanding of classical music pieces.

Cellist Wang Jian believes high-quality music is in the details
Ti Gong

Cellist Wang Jian listens to a student during his master class.

The open class drew music students and fans from all around the country. Wang and other world-class musicians will conduct online and offline seminars on cello performance and education-related issues later in the festival.

"Quality music requires paying attention to every detail," Wang said. "The audience may not be as professional as we are, but they will notice whether the details are in place."

The one-on-one teaching technique reflected Wang's meticulousness as a world-class musician. He pointed out shortcomings in each student's performances while offering areas for growth in technique, rhythm, dynamics, and emotion.

He ordered the students to repeat a melody ten times until they obtained what he desired.

Cellist Wang Jian believes high-quality music is in the details
Ti Gong

Wang instructs a student

Wang did not hold back in praising good efforts. To help students grasp the pieces, he gave demonstrations at important moments and incorporated the composer's life story and personality into the lessons.

He is also an expert in analogies. Wang compared Beethoven's "Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major" to the expression of love between an old Chinese couple when discussing the complicated emotion.

"An introverted Chinese old guy would never say 'I love you' to his wife; rather, 'your sorrow hurts my heart," he said. "To feel grief for another person is the most romantic love, and it should be reflected in our play."

Wang began learning cello from his father when he was four years old and went on to study at the Shanghai Conservatoire. He made his professional debut with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in 1981 at the age of 12, performing the Saint-Saens cello concerto.

Cellist Wang Jian believes high-quality music is in the details
Ti Gong

Wang's open master class attracted many students and music fans from other cities.

He enrolled in the Yale School of Music in 1985 and trained with renowned cellist Aldo Parisot. He has performed as a soloist with many of the world's major orchestras, eventually gaining international acclaim.

Many musicians transition from performing to teaching as they get older for health and other reasons. Wang has been caring for his elderly parents since returning to Shanghai.

"Musicians cannot hide in their comfort zone but must experience life's different favors," Wang said as he frequently incorporates his life ideas into his teachings.

"Western society confronts and despises death. Ancient Greek tragedy depicts how individuals bravely face death, whereas Chinese society avoids sadness and taboos. But musicians should not ignore it," he said.

Cellist Wang Jian believes high-quality music is in the details
Ti Gong

Wang's protégés include middle school, college, and postgraduate students.

Although each maestro has his or her own style of performing music, Wang makes every effort to look into the characteristics of each student.

"I see what makes each student's playing unique. Even if it contradicts my approach to music, as long as it impacts me, I protect and strengthen the valuable feature," Wang said. "Because if a learner mimics my way, he or she will be lost when I stop supervising, and the practice will go wrong."

Other foreign cellists teaching master classes at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music during the International Cello Festival include Lithuanian conductor and cellist David Geringas and French educator and cellist Philippe Muller.

"To be able to attend these master classes at home is a rare opportunity for local students," said Wang. "When I was learning cello, I had to search and apply for such courses, buy flight tickets, and book hotels to meet the masters."

"Face-to-face communication with high-level professionals can help in the development of the next generation of high-quality performers," he said.

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