The Work of Women

Di Xiao

Do you remember the first time you played the piano? 

I started learning the piano from the age of 4, back then there wasn't much classical music going on in my hometown Guangzhou, south China, it was hard to even find a piano teacher, my dad used to have to pedal his bicycle for two hours to get me a good teacher.

Who were your role models?

I guess my first role model was my mom, she is very artistic and loves singing, dancing and painting but, due to the cultural revolution, she didn't have the opportunity to live her dream.  I remember vividly how I enjoyed listening to the songs she sang and looking at her beautiful water colours on the wall

Why did you choose this particular theme to your programme?

I always try to do things differently rather than playing the standard repertoire, last season I tried mixing Chinese traditional and folk with the western classical music.  This new programme ' Femmes de Légende ' is to celebrate female composers as well as the muses who inspired others. As a female artist myself, I feel it's my duty to promote the work of other women.  Not only because of the gender issue, but more importantly, because these little known works are beautiful, they really deserve more attention. They are not females who compose but great composers who are female.

Can you tell audiences a little more about the programme you’ll be performing? 

The programme begins with the sweet and tuneful : Thème varié by French composer Chaminade, Cécile and will take the audience to Mr & Mrs Schumann's variations.  These peices were based on themes they gave each other, they are real intimate and soulful pieces like reading a series of love letters.  After that will be an exciting new work from a young Chinese composer (RuiQi Wang) and this will be a world premiere. The first half ends with British composer Mcdowall's set of 4 piano solos which was inspired by a black and white image of New York in the 90's, I love the energy and vivid imagination of this work. The second half includes some all-time favourites: Chopin's Nocturne in B flat,the 'rain drop' Preludes and the famous ‘Minute Waltz’.  These pieces were inspired & dedicated to Chopin's muses: countess Delphina Potorka & Geroge Sand.  Other works include the vigorous 'Jamaican Medley' by Alberga, which brings sunshine, sea breeze and  make you want to put on your dancing shoes and pieces from the prolific Mel Bonis.

Femmes de Légende , a collection named after women whose fates have become legendary. I think these are my favourite pieces of the programme because Bonis's composition displays great variety, her post romantic style ranges from dramatic to sensual, with a touch of the oriental feeling and always written with great sensitivity.

What does the programme mean to you?

My journey into female composers was like a treasure hunt.  I been surprised and delighted as I've discovered  these compositions.  It's also been emotional, I was often reduced to tears as I learned what these ladies had to confront in their life.  The doubt and shame they felt about their talents because, in their time, women were told their place is only at home to cook, wash and serve men.  For example, Clara Schumann who was a child prodigy and one of the most talented concert pianists of our time, she wrote a piano concerto at the age of 14 but created her last composition in her 30s because she became the sole bread winner, responsible for feeding 8 children.  She devoted herself to looking after her family and her husband, even editing his works. I'm so glad times are different now, but modern women still facing a lots of pressures, role conflicts and new challenges.  This is my call to all the brave lady fighters to support each other and invite everyone to join in and celebrate the achievements of women artists.

What music you are listening to currently?

Shostakovich Symphony No 5, Debussy cello sonata and Hiromi Uehara.

Do you have any advice or encouragement for young people hoping to become professional?

Be bold, be resilient, be yourself.