YouTube delivered an amazing performance by an amazing Chinese pianist…

A couple of times in the past three months I have highlighted Chinese music or musicians on YouTube, specifically Music has charms… Michael, China and I and Beethoven in Japan and China. The latter post included a performance of the violin concerto “The Butterfly Lovers”, which since first hearing it thirty years ago has become one of my favourites. The piece has been scored and interpreted in a variety of ways. This first one, for violin and piano, performed in the USA by Shanghai-born pianist Han Beilin and Korean violinist Ji-Won Song, is superb. Song also explains the piece.

Next, a piano concerto version from the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra (November 2017) with soloist Chen Jie  陈洁 (b. 1985).

But the performance that really got my attention was from Singapore, a piano solo abridged version by one of the most amazing 87-year-old women you will ever see — Elaine Wu YiLi.

Not only that performance but the history behind it is just awe-inspiring.

In that earlier post on Beethoven in Japan and China I noted the dreadful period of the Cultural Revolution:

Lu Hongen, who was a timpanist and conductor of the Shanghai Symphony in the 1960s, was an outspoken critic of the Cultural Revolution. Like many musicians at the time, he faced dire punishment for sympathy with Western culture and for his political criticism. After he was arrested, Melvin says Lu took to humming Beethoven’s Missa solemnis in his cell.

“Finally, they decided to execute him,” she says. “And he said to his cellmate, ‘If you ever get out of here alive, would you please do two things: One is find my son, and the other is go to Vienna, go to Beethoven’s grave … and tell him that his Chinese disciple was humming the Missa solemnis as he went to his execution.’”

In this photo Wu YiLi 巫漪丽 is front row right. She is 14.

Wu made her public debut at the Shanghai Lyceum Theatre in 1948. Her performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, accompanied by Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, made her famous in China.

In 1954, she joined the China National Symphony Orchestra (then called the Central Philharmonic Orchestra) in Beijing, and became its first solo pianist a year later. She married Yang Bingsun (杨秉荪), the lead violinist of the orchestra. Recognized as one of China’s top pianists, she frequently performed for foreign leaders visiting China and went on tours abroad.

After the debut of the Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto in 1959, Wu was the first to make a piano arrangement for the work, and the first to perform it at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China that year. It was one of the most famous performances of her career. She was personally received by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1962.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), Yang Bingsun was denounced as a “counter-revolutionary” and imprisoned for ten years. Wu was forced to divorce him in order not to be implicated, but was still beaten by the Red Guards and suffered long-term injuries in her feet.

She moved to the USA in the 1980s, and settled in Singapore in 1993. She passed away “on 20 April 2019 at Singapore General Hospital, after losing consciousness while attending a concert at the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.”

What a talent, and what a hard life! See also Wikipedia.