Courage to Conduct: The Amazing Story of Hu Yizhou

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Hu Yizhou cannot read music. Yet when he hears it, the affect it has on him is startling. He gives it his undivided attention, bending his head to hear every note.

Born in 1978 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, Hu, better known as Zhouzhou, was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, a congenital handicap that has severely limited his intellectual growth. But music is not only about intelligence.

Those who believe that intelligence can be measured would do well to watch Hu, who, with an Intelligence Quotient of 30 (the minimum IQ of an adult is 70) is nevertheless a dynamic presence onstage. Hu is living proof that human beings should not be judged by numbers. Invited as a guest conductor by the National Symphony Orchestra of the United States and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Hu has already attained international recognition for his achievement. He has also conducted the symphony orchestras of The Central Ballet Troupe of China and the Central Opera Theater. During his latest concert series in the city, he wielded his baton in front of the Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, conducting Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5, and Strauss’s Radetzky March.

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Hu has the ability to feel the various movements in a com-position, commit them to memory, and lead the orchestra members with the passion, if not the precision, of a seasoned conductor. Though some might not consider the 24-year-old a bona fide conductor, there is no doubt about his enthusiasm for music.

Wang Bin, a 11-year-old blind Peking Opera performer, is one of Hu’s best friends, and he seemed more comfortable with Wang than with the throngs of reporters waving microphones in his face upon his arrival in Shanghai. To a reporter who politely asked who his favorite composer was, the camera-shy conductor muttered Strauss.

Zhang Huiqin, Hu’s mother, says that her son has “an innate sense for music” and when he hears it, whether it’s emanating from a department store speaker or a home stereo, “he gives it his full, undivided attention.”

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Jiang Xiebin, a famous Chinese conductor, was quoted as saying that Hu’s talent is “pure beauty,” and that the young man has a connection with music that cannot be taught — a soulful sensitivity to harmony and melody that “even some trained conductors lack.”

The young conductor’s father Hu Houpei is a cellist in Wuhan Symphony Orchestra, and when Hu was a child, his dad always took him along to rehearsals. The child showed an interest in music from an early age, listening quietly at first, then gradually beginning to imitate the movements of the conductor, Zhang Qi.

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In 1997, Zhang Yiqing, a documentary director with Hubei TV Station learned of Hu’s interest in music. The director made a documentary about Hu’s fascination with music that was aired in China, Europe and the US, which brought the young man to the attention of several prominent orchestras. Joining the troupe of disabled performers, Hu has toured around China and the world.

 

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