Violin virtuoso Angelo Xiang Yu plays a 300-year-old Stradivarius and if you’re wondering what that might sound like, well, pretty incredible.
And what’s the sensation of playing an instrument with so much history behind it?
“It’s almost like talking to somebody who is 300 years old,” said the 27-year-old native of Inner Mongolia China who now lives in Boston. “All the history of it and the color of it; it is almost unreal to play this on a daily basis.”
He’s bringing that extraordinary instrument with him when he makes his Tucson Symphony Orchestra — and Arizona — debut this weekend. Yu will perform Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 on Friday, March 17, and Sunday, March 19, at Tucson Music Hall. It will be the first time the TSO has ever played the Prokofiev.
“It’s a beautiful concerto but it’s not been played very often,” Yu said, speaking from home in Boston on a windy Thursday afternoon. “It does not have this flashy virtuoso ending. Every concerto you know, like Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Sibelius and all these famous concertos, they have a brilliant ending so everybody is like, ‘Bravo!’ and standing. But this does have a lot of virtuosities in the second movement, the middle movement, and the audience will hear something they’ve never heard before. Almost, you feel like you’re not listening to a violin; you’re listening to some trumpet or brass instruments playing this. It’s very, very technically challenging, but the piece ends in a very dreamy, nostalgic feeling. It’s almost like a Russian-French combination of impressionism.”
Tucson is one of several orchestra’s hosting debuts with Yu, who spends a month a year in Shanghai, China, visiting his father. The rest of the year, Yu is hopscotching the country, guesting with big and small orchestras alike and performing a wide range of repertoire.
The Prokofiev is among his favorites, judging by the way he waxes poetic when he talks about the piece. When conductor David Lockington, who will lead the TSO this weekend, told him he wanted to bring the Prokofiev to Tucson, Yu jumped at the chance.
“I personally love this concerto because it has a combination of sweetness and sadness at the same time so people get to enjoy all those colors in time as the piece unfolds,” he said, adding that he believes the Prokofiev will once again find popular favor.
The chance to introduce the piece to Tucson on his prized violin is especially exciting, he said.
“I’ve played a number of instruments, some very old ones, but nothing like this,” he said of the Strad, on loan to him for the past six years.” When I play a different instrument, I have to make an effort to make something happen, and sometimes it never really happens because it has its limits. But this one is limitless. ... You can never own this instrument because this instrument is part of you; it controls your soul.”