Stop! Don’t call her Canada’s Vanessa Mae for Susanne Hou is not a contemporary pop violinist, but rather a traditional and modern classical virtuoso. She also shies away from the tag prodigy even though her story seems to suggest exactly that.
“I begged to start (playing the violin) when I was three, but I had to wait until I was four because my hands were too tiny,” says Hou, who must have, through osmosis, inherited the musical genes of her parents -— both of whom are also violinists.
Sure, the stereotypical image of stern Chinese parents forcing the strings upon their only child does come to light, but Hou insists it was not her parents’ choice, but her decision to pick up the violin, and that her talent is not God-given, but developed through learning.
Child lessons from dad spanned “two hours a day, every day, come rain or shine, in sickness or in health,” says Hou. By 12, her regimen increased to four-plus hours a day, and by 18 training ballooned upwards to nine hours a day.
“I was taught lovingly, yet strictly,” admits Hou, “but ultimately it was my choice,” she says from Texas, her latest stop on her current tour comprising a stellar ensemble of top fiddlers and violinists (bowfire.com).
Hou’s choice has been paying off handsomely. She uprooted from Shanghai to Toronto as a toddler. Her first public performance was staged at age five, and by nine she scored a scholarship into Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. Then at 12, she found herself commuting to New York’s prestigious Julliard School where she graduated with multiple certifications.
From then on, the accolades kept coming. She made a mark in history by becoming the first to win three gold medals at three of the world’s most prestigious violin competitions by unanimous decision (Spain in 1997, and France and Italy in 1999).
More recently, Hou was the first violinist to win the Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank Competition two times in a row. The reward: retaining the loan of the 1729 “ex-Heath” Guarneri del Gesu violin.
“It’s like falling in love,” says Hou recalling the first time she cradled the $4-million instrument.
Touring the world and performing with the finest orchestras have become second nature for Hou, but this year she charts new ground by lending her talents to the soundtrack of Atom Egoyan’s new film, Adoration.
She also debuts her second independently produced CD, You Can Never Have Too Many Suites, at the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto on May 31. For ticket information, go to ticketmaster.com. To purchase the CD, go to susannehou.com.
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