Superpower pianists together in the shadow of the windmill
It was a night when China and Russia harmonised as musical prodigy BingBing Li and piano teacher Elena Kiseleva gave the people of Swineshead a concert to remember.
The opening concert of the 2015-16 Windmill Music Club programme served up a treat as BingBing, who left the Chinese city of Changchun aged just 14 to train at the Purcell School of Music and Royal Academy of Music, both in London, under Professor Christopher Elton.
A year before BingBing fell under Elton’s spell, it was Elena who experienced what they both describe as his “big father” treatment and the duo released some of it in Swineshead through their skilful navigating of music by Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Mozart and Ravel.
But it would be wrong to assume that Elena played “second fiddle” to BingBing when, in fact, the pair were as essential to each other’s symmetry and cohesion on the night as the other.
The concert ended with the almost mischievous inclusion of French composer Darius Milhaud’s comical and light-hearted Scaramouche, possibly the inspiration behind the theme to TV crime series Murder She Wrote.
We share the same teacher (Professor Elton), we’re of a similar age and we share a culture of discipline that we’re able to build on together.Chinese-born classical pianist BingBing Li
BingBing and Elena should expect a return ticket to Swineshead very soon.
During the interval, BingBing said: “We knew each other at the Royal Academy of Music but we couldn’t get to know each other very well because we were on different courses.
“However, we shared the same teacher (Professor Elton), we were of a similar age and we found out that we shared a culture of discipline that we were able to build on together.”
Elena continued: “Moving to London in 2004 was a life-changing experience for me at the age of 20 and when I arrived, I had to grow up quickly and think for myself.
“But Professor Elton was like a big father to both me and BingBing, not just a teacher, and even now I remember some of the things he said.”
In January, BingBing released an album of music by relatively obscure German composer Walter Niemann whose birth took place on October 10 almost 140 years ago.
“There are so many neglected composers out there and it’s sad from their side of things,” BingBing said.
“But I’ve been very lucky to find a composer who speaks the music that I like to play and it’s now being played by other composer.”
However, the most burning question to ask BingBing and Elena was about the secret of their chemistry together and the uniqueness of performing in rural Lincolnshire.
Elena said: “You make the adjustment quite naturally because you see the people sitting close to you have and then communicate with them in a much more friendlier way, making the audience feel like they are our friends.”
BingBing added: “We also had to get use to the two pianos which were very, very different, using our knowledge and experience to try something different.
“The most amazing thing about our time with Professor Elton was that he didn’t teach us to have the same musical feeiing and we played very individually, based on our own personalities.
“Everyone has different foundations and so myself and Elena would play the same piece differently.
“I found it challenging to come to the UK as a 14-year-old, but I was fortunate to have a scholarship to come here and in music, there’s no such thing as language differences.
“This is due to the performer’s talent and both myself and Elena are very lucky to find that we gel together musically.
“It’s nice to have some discussions with Elena about what we’re going to do and play together, especially when we give each other so many new ideas to work on.”
The next concert in the Windmill Music Club series features soprano Marianne Wright and pianist Geoffrey Pratley who are at Swineshead Village Hall on Friday, November 20 at 7.30pm.
Review and interview by Winston Brown.