MOSCOW, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Early in a winter morning when snow lit Moscow, Zuo Zhenguan, a 68-year-old Chinese-born composer, woke up as usual and approached his cello with a cup of Chinese green tea. He has been living in the Soviet Union and now Russia for over half a century.
"You can hardly tell a single difference between my oral Russian and that of the natives," Zuo, dressed in a blue-and-white stripe shirt covered with a dark red knitwear, told Xinhua ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's first state visit to Russia.
"Also, you might say my oral Chinese is no worse than yours," chuckled Zuo, the only ethnic Chinese who ever received the Russian Medal of Merit awarded personally by then President Boris Yeltsin.
In 1958 when Zuo, 13, started practicing cello, his father was imprisoned for political reasons. "Raising four children in Shanghai was just impossible for my mother, an educated half-breed of China and the Soviet Union," Zuo said.
Zuo's family moved to Siberia, where his grandmother lived, in 1961. Fascinated by Peter Tchaikovsky's music works, Zuo attended a vocational music school there, where he became a cellist and pursued further education in a college.
"Relations between China and the Soviet Union were worsening radically in those years, we had to register with the police station twice a year. They looked at us as if we were thieves," Zuo said.
Ordinary people, however, were never hostile. "I was poor and shy," he said. "Every now and then when I was having lunch, merely rice, at a secluded corner, I would surprisingly find a piece of meat hidden in my tin."
Zuo owed the luck mostly to his particular social circle composed of mainly intellectuals and musicians. "Sometimes I would joke with them, 'are you friendly to me simply out of interest in ethnologic study?'" the musician laughed.
His classmates and teachers, however, said Zuo deserved each and every prize he won as the young man was so perseverant.
"I used to wake up at six in the morning and practiced cello somewhere that wouldn't disturb others," Zuo once wrote in an article, adding he even practiced the musical instrument in the restroom in winter, when temperature customarily dropped to minus 30 degrees outside.
Recommended by a famed professor, Zuo was admitted to the Moscow Conservatory, where he met his Russian wife, in 1973 when he was 28 and "a latecomer to such a reputable academy."
Zuo received wide recognition as he creatively applied Chinese traditional musical instruments such as flute to Western symphonies.
"Nowadays I find more and more Chinese artists trying to integrate into Western genres," the musician said. "For me, I prefer to seek inspiration back from China, and that's how the ballet 'A River Flows' comes."
A River Flows, a softly rhythmed folk music originating in China's southwest Yunnan Province, was applied to his ballet and achieved great success in his first personal concert on Sept. 1, 1987, when he reunited, for the first time in some 30 years, with his father.
"I received him at the railway station that morning and talked for some 10 minutes and invited him to the night's concert," and then rushed back to prepare the show, Zuo said.
Standing ovation from the audience left Zuo no choice but to sing an extra song when the concert was over. He chose the song "Hometown" written and composed by himself.
Zuo can visit China more since then. "Our homeland has been witnessing tremendous changes in the last 30 years," he said. "My colleagues are surprised to find we can reach a major city by train within hours, while it used to take a whole day."
Infrastructure has also been greatly improved. "Many theaters are designed and built in a way that will not be outdated in the foreseeable future," he said.
More importantly, Chinese people are getting increasingly interested in art forms like ballet and orchestra. "I, along with my Russian Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) founded in 1992, perform in China every year," Zuo said, adding the number of audience has been rising steadily.
"Once I walked alone on a street in snowing Beijing after a performance, I felt warm and contented about the audience's response," he said.
As a semi-retiree, Zuo has more time travelling between the two countries. "Apart from conducting tour performances in China and other countries, I receive more and more aspiring young Chinese musicians who long to make a difference in Russia," Zuo said.
Zuo noted when he was as young as 13, he had a dream, together with his then playmates, to form a philharmonic with 100 members and play Ludwig Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
As his childhood dream has come true, the senior gentleman has another dream, a dream that every child in his hometown receives sufficient and comprehensive education, that children can dream their own dreams without interference, that the elderly can enjoy appropriate social insurance and family attendance, and that different ethnic groups can make joint efforts for sustainable stability and prosperity.
Zuo said that 80 percent of the Chinese Dream, put forth by newly elected President Xi, has been accomplished, "and I believe the government is moving forward steadily in the right direction."
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