Imagine being barely in your teens, and traveling halfway around the world by yourself to live in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language.
Five years ago, that’s what faced Boxianzi “Vivian” Ling, 19, when she left China to come to the U.S., continuing her violin studies at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in San Francisco, and graduating from high school at San Domenico High School in San Anselmo.
“When I first got here, I was alone and lonely,” she said. “I feel much better now. I can talk to people. I have a lot of friends and I play in an orchestra.”
Many of those friends and colleagues are her fellow musicians at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is a freshman studying violin performance with teachers Wei He (who acted as her guardian when she first moved here), and Ian Swensen.
On March 19, Vivian—winner of the 2016 Parnassus–San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition—will perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major with Symphony Parnassus.
With its lyrical melodies and dramatic passages, the Beethoven is a beloved concerto that presents plenty of challenges for its soloist. “It looks simple, but it’s very hard to control everything technically or emotionally,” Vivian said. She has played it once before, and estimates that she will probably spend between three and six hours a day practicing for the concert.
Vivian looks forward to the concert; it is just her second time performing with a full orchestra. “I’m really excited to play with Symphony Parnassus,” she said.
Vivian was born in Hunan province in southern China, and began studying violin at age 5. She said that “right away” her teacher knew she had a gift, and told her parents to send her to Shanghai or Beijing to study music.
Her parents stayed behind in Hunan because of their jobs, but she left home at age 7 with her grandmother to live in Shanghai, where she attended a prestigious elementary school affiliated with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. At age 12, she was featured on China National TV playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto; she has also soloed with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra.
Her musical background comes from both sides of the family: Her mother “plays a little piano,” and has taught music; her father likes to sing and is a music lover who played a lot of classical music recordings when she was growing up. Mozart is her favorite composer because “it reminds me of my childhood in China. My dad liked to play recordings and Mozart was his favorite.”
The musical lineage goes further back to her grandmother, who was a dancer, and a grandfather who was a conductor who played a Chinese instrument similar to a small violin.
Winner of the Young Artists Concerto Competition with Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra in 2012, Vivian served as concertmaster of San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2014-2016. She participated in the SFSYO European tour, performing in the Berlin Philharmonie and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.