Friday, December 7, 2007
The Passionate Musician
Before Lang Lang there was Fou Ts'ong.
Born in Shanghai in 1934, Fou is the son of Fou Lei, who was a literary critic and well known for his Chinese translations of French writers, like Honore de Balzac, Romain Rollard, Voltaire and Andre Gide.
When Ts'ong was young, he listened to his father's recordings of classical music. Ts'ong started learning piano and in 1951 made his debut with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.
Fou's career soared soon after that performance. He went to Poland to study piano and came in third in the International Chopin Competition in 1955 in Warsaw. From then onwards he was considered a great interpreter of the Polish composer.
His father was very concerned about him being far from home. Fou senior wrote him long letters about how to be a man, what to wear, even how to find a wife. These were later published in a book that my friend told me about.
Back in China during this period, Chairman Mao began creating havoc in the country, with his "Anti-Rightist" campaigns, rounding up those who criticized him during the Hundred Flowers Movement.
Fou stunned the Chinese Communists by defecting in 1957 while in London for a performance. The British capital has been his home ever since.
He was also briefly married to Sir Yehudi Menhuin's daughter Zamira in the 1960s.
By now the Cultural Revolution was about to paralyze the country and Fou's defection along with his parents considered intellectuals made them targets for the Red Guards. His parents suffered so much humiliation that they decided to kill themselves in a suicide pact in 1966.
Fou did not return home to mourn them until 1979 and came back a year later to perform his first concert in China in 20 years.
But he didn't come back again until 1998 after the Tiananmen Square Incident.
Tonight I had the privilege to watch this man perform at the Forbidden City Concert Hall.
It's hidden inside Zhongshan Park, or Sun Yat-sen Garden, next to the Forbidden City.
Fou doesn't look like his publicity photos with his cheeks filled out and full head of hair. Instead his cheeks are sunken and has a receding hairline.
But the old school pianist did not disappoint. He walked on stage in a plain black Chinese jacket, black pants and shiny loafers.
He performed a selection of Haydn, Debussy, Schubert and of course Chopin.
At times his fingers weren't as agile as they used to be, but that didn't matter. His passion for the music was still strong and he may not be as expressive with his gestures as Lang Lang, but the audience can feel him communicating his emotions through the piano keys.
Throughout the concert I couldn't help thinking the incredible life he has lived and how he has the courage to perform in the country, and to the people who at one point in time vilified his family.
But perhaps his love of music transcends all that hatred and pain. Or perhaps it's a loving tribute to his parents, who helped give him the career he has today.