Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Keeping audiences Huanging on his every note

Posted by Kimberly on July 21, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
21, 2007, page 1&13 (1,204 words)

For Mengla Huang, it was merely the innocence of a child’s mind that led him down the path to become a gifted violinist, someone the Chinese press have labelled ‘the Paganini made in China.’
At the tender age of four, his parents offered him one of two choices.
“One was to study the violin while the other was to study the piano.
“I thought the violin was smaller than a piano and maybe easier. I can take my violin everywhere to show people I can play the violin.
“Maybe this was the reason I picked up the violin,” he says.
Now, with a multitude of accolades, numerous concertos and an audience with royalty under his belt, Mengla can safely say he has only one regret.
“I will never be a pianist or a scientist. So what a pity. I have only one life. I want to try something more but it’s not my major so I don’t know how.
“I feel very lucky that I can play a violin and music as my career, as my work. When you enjoy your work, it’s a very happy thing.
“But I feel a little pity because I cannot enjoy anything else. Like swimming! I cannot swim,” he says.
The talent may have existed from the moment Mengla picked up the violin his tuition with the instrument was anything but a happy time.
“Years before I turned 18, I would just practice the technique of violin. It was only technical training for me.
“I tried to feel the beauty of the music but it was so difficult to catch,” he says, adding that “the practice of the technique, how to play the instrument, is horrible.
“It’s so difficult, and takes so much time to cover so it’s not a happy life.
To the young Mengla, those gifted students that had a strong feeling for the music that knew their own direction; they were the ones to envy.
“They practise very hard and they are willing to do that but for me, I didn’t know where I was going, I just practised. So it wasn’t a happy life,” he said.
But having said that, once he had achieved, once he began to enjoy the music, it was never enough.
“The music is so beautiful. I remember a Russian pianist and composer [Sergei Rachmaninoff] once said, “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”
“I agree with this opinion,” he says.
He adds that for him, there is still a degree of fun to be had, even after a decade of performing.
“There is always some fun when you cooperate with different people, different conductors.
“The only reason I can play on stage is because I enjoy the music.
He adds that it also helps to feel the freshness associated with being a relative newcomer.
“I still feel I can be fresh on the stage because I’ve just stared my performing career. Maybe ten years from now I won’t feel so fresh.
“You play with different people and it’s different, even when you play the same piece.
“So I still feel a little fresh when I’m on the stage,” he says.
He goes on to say that sometimes, when he plays with a very famous conductor, or a great one, ‘you feel happy, you feel satisfied with the music.”
And then there are the encounters with conductors he recalls as being “strange.”
“I played in Yokohama with a conductor who was really good but he said nothing when he played the concerto part.
“I remember the Paganini concerto section was me and it was very strange when such a great conductor played with a soloist and said nothing.
“I think this is a different point of view. Some conductors think concerto and orchestra should follow the soloist but others think a solo violist is only a part of the orchestra piece so these are totally opposite opinions.
“So I think he was the type to think the orchestra should follow the soloist. But he said nothing; it was very strange.
“Can you imagine; the piece is thirty minutes long and there’s no word, no direction. “And he’s such a high-positioned maestro and I cannot say, ‘can you tell me something of your opinion?’ If he didn’t say, I didn’t ask!” he says.
Mengla’s journey has been a bit like a fairytale.
He won the first prize at the prestigious Paganini International Violin Competition in Italy, in 2002, along with the Mario Ruminelli Memorial award and the Renato De Barbieri Memorial award for the best interpretation of Paganini’s caprices.
Since then, he has performed throughout the world, including Asia, Europe and North America, with recitals in Japan, China and France.
The orchestras and conductors Mengla has performed with read like a who’s who of the classical music world; from the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and the German National Philharmonic, to conductors Chikara Iwamura, Henrik Schaefer and Muhai Tang, to name a few.
Accepted into the Shanghai Conservatory of Music at the age of eight, Mengla proceeded to become the youngest faculty member of the Conservatory after completing his Masters degree.
His performances have not been limited to the live variety though; he is currently under contract to Universal Music, having released his first record in 2005, with another soon to follow.
“We are talking about the second CD about the program, what I should play.
“We have to think of a topic, then under that we can find a suitable program of pieces,” he says.
Talk of performances led to the question of whether Mengla still felt a rush of nerves when he performed in front of a live audience.
To this he replied, “Sometimes still, I feel nervous, it doesn’t come very often but I don’t know when it will come.
“With a thousand people I can feel relaxed but sometimes with few people, let’s say 100-200 I can feel very nervous. I don’t know what happens, it just comes!” he says.
His performance for the Danish royal court in 2006 was highly praised, but Mengla remains modest about the experience.
“It was a mini concert, less than 100 people there and I played two very easy and exciting pieces. I think they enjoyed it very much.
“They were a very nice family and we had a huge dinner! You see, my memory is like that! They are very nice people,” he says adding that he played Paganini and Prokofiev’s March.
Yet for Mengla, the most exciting time for him is when he gets to practise his music alone because “I can refine the music.
“If I feel that some detail does not satisfy me, I can repair and do something to change it.
“On the stage there is no choice, I have to forget it, if I play something wrong, so I really enjoy my practice time,” he says.
Mengla will be performing “very regular pieces” with British pianist Jeremy Young.
“March is not played very often and I’m playing Paganini because they asked me to play it,” he says.
Mengla will also perform Saint-Saëns’ Sonata No.1 in D minor and Rondo Capriccioso, Brahms’ Scherzo and Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy.


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