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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, November 25, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Jue Yao: "I have to put in my own personal feelings or I won't
enjoy myself, and the audience won't enjoy the concert."

Violinist brings her sense
of style to the classics

By Tim Ryan


Jue Yao laughs with a bit of an edge when she's asked if studying the violin was a personal choice.

"No, my father pushed me into it when I was 5 years old," said Yao, 30, who makes her debut with the Honolulu Symphony tomorrow and Saturday. "He's a conductor and has very strong thoughts about what to study and at what age."

What would she rather have been doing?

"Well, not practicing," Yao says, laughing a bit livelier.

When she once got caught for moving the hands on the clock 30 minutes ahead so her lessons would end a half-hour early, her father made her kneel on a washboard for a half-hour.

Today there is no clock to cheat or washboard to kneel on, but China's most acclaimed female violinist practices as much as six hours a day.


Bullet In concert: With the Honolulu Symphony, 7 p.m. tomorrow, Central Union Church; 7 p.m. Saturday, Kawaiahao Church
Bullet Also performing: Quinn Kelsey, baritone; Tara Melia Hunt, soprano; Stuart Chafetz, guest conductor
Bullet Program includes: Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"; Verdi's Overture from "La Forza del Destino"; Puccini's "O Mio Bambino Caro"; Mozart's Duet from "Marriage of Figaro"; Bizet's Prelude and "Toreador Song" from "Carmen"
Bullet Tickets: $25
Bullet Charge by phone: 792-2000

"You reach a plateau where you feel comfortable with your performing, but after a while you ... want to strive higher," she said. "You may listen to other musicians and they influence you to do something different, so you try that.

"If you don't keep reinventing yourself it gets boring."

Yao, who makes her home in Honolulu and Hong Kong, remembers growing up in China when musicians were allowed to play only Chinese music.

"I was in a school where there were special music methods for study where the so-called Chinese method by some teachers was altered to (incorporate) western methods," Yao said. "The teachers were very smart."

But the musical restrictions in her early years stunted Yao's musical development.

"I started very late because of the ban," she said. "It took me quite a while to catch up."

Yao was 11 when she first performed western music, a concerto by Mendelssohn.

"Oh, I remember the time very clearly and that it took me a long time to learn it," Yao said. "It got easier and easier."

These days the majority of her concerts -- as many as 40 a year -- are Chinese concertos, performed mostly in Asia.

"Audiences in Asia -- China especially -- have matured," she said. "Asia now gets first-class orchestras and we're all more exposed to western music."

Born in Shanghai, China, Yao rose to prominence at 16 when she won first prize in the Chinese National Violin Competition. After hearing Yao perform in Shanghai, the director of the San Francisco Conservatory awarded her a full scholarship to study with the conservatory's master teacher, Zaven Melikian.

Yao continued her violin studies at New York's Julliard School of Music.

Yao believes in combining the composer's intention for the music and her own style. Music critics have praised Yao's playing for its passionate interpretation, technical skill and style.

"I always do original things," Yao said. "I have to put in my own personal feelings or I won't enjoy myself, and the audience won't enjoy the concert."

She's performed with the Central Philharmonic of China, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Century Symphony Orchestra of Japan, National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, Little Orchestra Society of New York and the Prague Chamber Orchestra. And Yao was featured in the book "China's Famous Females," published as part of the 1995 International Women's Congress in Beijing.

"I love being on stage," Yao said. "I've never, ever had stage fright; the more people the better."

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