Ning Feng violin

Ning Feng, violinist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My father was the person who exposed me to the violin world and gave me a violin. However, he never really wished that I would become a professional violinist; that was later my own choice. I also must mention four teachers I had in my learning years, as they had a very direct impact on me. And of course, I think I can speak on behalf of many violinists when I say that we are all inspired by the greatest violinists in the last century. I personally enjoy and admire David Oistrakh, who I also have learnt from by watching and listening to his videos and recordings.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

For me the greatest challenge is always what I do tomorrow, whether that is a new piece that I am learning or the next concert that I am playing. What is in the past is not that important anymore. Regardless of if I have done something greatly or not so well, there is nothing I can do to change it because it is already done. The only thing that I can control is what I do now, which hopefully can make tomorrow’s work better. So, the greatest challenge of my career is how to make my tomorrow better.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I have to say that I am proud of everything that I have done (concerts, recordings…) because I put a lot of effort into it and tried my absolute best when I did each of them. At the same time, I have to say that I am never completely satisfied with any of my performances or recordings as there is always something that sooner or later I realise I could have done better. Having said that, I must admit that I am quite proud of the recording that I did for the Sonatas and partitas for solo violin, because I did it at the age of 35, which is precisely when Bach wrote these masterworks, and I am also the first Chinese violinist to have recorded these and performed them on stage. The latest performance that I have done of this series of works was at the Wigmore Hall in London, and it was live broadcasted on the internet, and that is something that I am also quite proud of.

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

I cannot choose a particular work or composer for this, as I consider myself as a servant to music. I serve the audience with the music that the composer has written. My job is to deliver this message of the music in the best way possible, and each time I try my best, regardless of who wrote it.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

There are so many things I do off stage that inspire me and help me connect with my music making. For instance, the smell and colour of flowers, the colour of the sky, the weather, the taste of food. The feelings we perceive in different parts of our body. All these things are very inspirational for me.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

For the past fifteen years I was trying to enlarge my repertoire, so every season I would add one or two new concertos, three or four new sonatas and several new pieces. So, for the past fifteen years, I would say I have probably performed at least ninety or ninety-five pieces. This is actually a great question for me because it makes me question what works I would like to play in the next few years.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I don’t have a specific favourite venue. Although the venue is important, the most important thing for me is the audience. The audience is the reason that we are performing to begin with, so I would say any venue that is filled with music lovers is my favourite venue.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

The most important thing is, in my opinion, to introduce classical music to younger generations, because we must plant a seed in their young minds for them to begin appreciating the beauty of classical music at an early age. Then, as they grow up and become adults, they may naturally enjoy music and go to concerts, buy CDs, and that will keep our work present.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For me that would be playing music from a country with musicians from the same country. I have had the privilege to perform, for instance, German and Hungarian works with several world class musicians from those countries. As a Chinese violinist, being able to play in an environment like that is a blessing.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think that if I do not regret too much when I retire from my profession, then I would call myself kind of successful.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Firstly, they have to love music. Because learning and practising is really difficult and challenging. But we must have passion for what we do if we want to become decent, qualified musicians.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

In my opinion, we have talked about every single aspect of the music industry. Especially with the media coverage we have nowadays, we are able to post anything on the internet, so we now have all the information that we could receive. We can look at a subject from every angle possible. So probably what we should do is to learn how to filter out information that is not helpful or is inaccurate.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is being able to say, when my time is up, that I do not regret the things I have done in my life. If I do not regret any of my decisions or actions, then I would say that is almost perfect happiness, although perfection does not exist. Nothing is ever perfect.

Prize-winning soloist Ning Feng performs in the Image China concert at London’s Cadogan Hall on Thursday 13th April. The programme features celebrated and ground-breaking works by acclaimed Chinese composers Chen Qigang, Tan Dun, Wang Xilin, Zhou Tian, and Fu Renchang alongside Western composers Edward Elgar and John Brunning.

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Ning Feng is recognised internationally as an artist of great lyricism, innate musicality and stunning virtuosity. He performs across the globe with major orchestras and conductors, and in recital and chamber concerts in some of the most important international series and festivals. In 2019 the Washington Post described him as “a wonderful player with a creamy, easy tone and an emotional honesty” and BBC Music Magazine said of a recent recording “His silvery tonal purity, immaculate intonation and gently beguiling musicality have a way of making most other players sound decidedly effortful by comparison.”

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Image credit: Lawrence Tang