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September 19, 2010

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Composer springs big surprise on pianist

WELL-KNOWN English composer Howard Blake was in Shanghai from September 4-9, his first trip to the city.

One of Blake's songs "Speech after Long Silence," which was written specifically for World Expo Shanghai, was performed by Australian-Chinese pianist William Chen at a private concert at the Australia Pavilion on September 4.

Blake appeared in the audience during Chen's performance, surprising the pianist.

After the concert, Chen gave a short speech to thank Blake. Chen's eyes filled with tears during the speech.

Blake is one of the most popular and prolific living English composers. He has written music for more than 50 years including scores for films such as "The Duellists" and "A Month in the Country."

In 1982, he wrote the lyrics and music for the animated Channel 4 TV film "The Snowman," with its song "Walking in the Air" much loved by children all over the world.

The English composer wrote "Benedictus" while staying with monks at Worth Abbey. It was later recorded by David Willcocks, Robert Tear, the Bach Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Q: Is this your first trip to Shanghai? What's your impression?

A: It's my first time, and Shanghai is also the first city I visited in Chinese mainland. Before this I have only been to Hong Kong. I stayed here for five days. Besides the Expo, I have also visited the Bund, which is an amazing place.The architecture in this city deeply attracts me. I will definitely come back, maybe with my family.

Q: What's it like working with William Chen?

A: We have known each other for many years, since we met in London in 2002. William is a very talented and hard-working pianist. We also collaborated for his return concert in Japan in 2006.

It was the first time that I really heard him play "Speech after Long Silence" at his concert in the Australia Pavilion. It really touched me and I think he represented this music perfectly. We plan on recording this song and he will definitely play it on other occasions as much as possible.

Q: Could you talk more about this song "Speech after Long Silence"?

A: I wrote this song especially for the World Expo Shanghai. The music starts quiet and then blooms, just like the growing-up of China.It took me a long time to finish. I remember that I wrote this song in my house in Sweden, a very quiet place, which gave me inspiration.I met William Chen in April and invited him to play this work. I know it's a very difficult piece, but he is talented enough to handle it.

Q: Besides William Chen, do you know other Chinese musicians and what do you think of them?

A: I have worked with many Chinese musicians from the orchestras in London. There are a lot of Oriental artists playing there to develop their artistic career. But I haven't collaborated one-to-one with these musicians like I have with William.

I have also collaborated with many musicians from South Korea, since I had some opportunities to work there. In fact, I will never tag artists by nationality. I regard a pianist as a pianist, a musician as a musician.

Besides William, I am deeply impressed by famous pianist Lang Lang from China. I think he is extraordinarily talented. I also know about cellist Yo-Yo Ma. I will be pleased if there is a chance to work with them.


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