The art of songwriting

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A new album celebrates the late Ding Shande, a hugely influential and prolific Chinese composer, pianist and musical educator.

The art of songwriting
Sun Li (left), CEO of Naxos China, presents a commemorative edition of the album, Essential Art Songs of Ding Shande, to Yu He (second from left), CEO of Kuke Music, tenor Zhang Jianyi (third from left) and pianist Wei Fugen. The album marks Ding's 110th birth anniversary.[Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

Klaus Heymann can still recall the day when he visited late Chinese composer and pianist Ding Shande (1911-95) in Shanghai in the 1980s.

"I don't know which year it was since it was a very long time ago. Back then, Shanghai was quite different from today. There were less cars, and it was very dark outside during the night," says Heymann. "I remember that there were two boys playing in the big living room of Ding's nice, old house."

That's how Heymann's friendship with Ding and his family started.

The German-born entrepreneur, 85, is credited with founding Naxos in 1987, today a leading classical record label headquartered in Hong Kong.

Heymann, who doesn't play instruments and can't read music, launched the record label to distribute recordings made by his wife, Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki, who, since settling in Hong Kong in 1974, has become well-known for her performances and recordings of Chinese violin pieces, especially the Butterfly Lovers violin concerto.

Four decades later, Heymann still keeps in touch with Ding's family by working with the "two boys"-Ding's grandsons: Yu Long, a veteran conductor, and Yu He, founder and CEO of Kuke Music, China's first online platform dedicated to promoting classical music.

On Nov 12, the 110th birth anniversary of Ding, an album, titled Essential Art Songs of Ding Shande, was released globally by Naxos.

Featuring 14 art songs and five songs from Song Cycle Dianxi Poem Collection, all composed by Ding, the album is performed by Chinese tenor Zhang Jianyi, soprano Huang Ying and pianist Wei Fugen.

"All of the art songs have the distinctive sound of Chinese folk music, which Ding combined with Western classical music. People around the world will be able to enjoy his music,"Heymann says.

When Chinese composers were not as widely known worldwide as they are today, Naxos had recorded and published musical works by Chinese composers, including Bright Sheng, Tan Dun and Chen Qigang, according to Heymann.

Ding's music pieces are also included in Naxos' large catalog, such as his symphonic poem Spring and the piano suite for children Happy Festival, both performed by Ding's daughter, pianist Ding Jiannuo, along with his Long March Symphony, performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor Yu Long.

"My grandfather composed many musical works. My favorites are his art songs. He loved Chinese folk songs and he wrote many pieces that were inspired by them," says Yu Long. "I was very lucky to grow up with him and receive musical training from him, which had a profound lifelong influence."

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