By Christina Pinto
You hear stories of musicians like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who began composing at a very early age and you wonder what it would be like to meet such musical prodigies when they were children, poised on the cusp of future greatness. I had that privilege the other day, on meeting Haiwei Li, the 14-year-old, Kuwait-based young Chinese musical sensation.
Zang Feng, Li’s mother, shared details about her remarkable son’s story. Li was born in Kuwait in 2003 during the second Gulf War, and among their difficulties at that time was a meager income. It was to the good fortune of Li that he was adopted by a kindly Kuwaiti family, who promised to care for him.
This deeply moving story got me asking about Li’s Kuwaiti family. “My ‘Mama’ raised me for five years until her passing away, which marked an indelible loss in my life. Children of my Kuwaiti family, who are now my siblings, continue to love and support me.”
On being asked about his start in music, he reminisced, “My older sister, who studied music, tested me at the age of four and found that I could understand musical notes or keys correctly without watching. I then joined the Kuwait Music Academy on a full scholarship. I have been lucky to have access to so many opportunities.”
Since joining the Academy, Li has performed in many competitions gaining recognition, awards and accolades at each performance. “Winning first place in the 2010 Chopin competition in Kuwait, in the under-12 category at the age of seven was a breakthrough for me, it made me realize my talent for music.”
From the age of nine, Haiwei Li, has captivated audiences in Kuwait and the Middle East, playing before gatherings that have included presidents, prime ministers and other distinguished personalities. He adds, “I have played at Bayan Palace and at many embassies in Kuwait. I also regularly participate at events organized by the Chinese community.” He was also honored with an invitation by Kuwait’s Embassy in China to perform on Kuwait National and Liberation Day celebrations. Li is also a regular performer at ‘The Concert of Hope’, a yearly fundraising concert, as well as similar concerts organized by the UN and the Kuwait Red Crescent Society. His young age belies the impressive list of achievements to his credit, including awards in several piano and violin competitions in Kuwait and the Middle East. His most recent accomplishment was being awarded the ‘Young Musician of the Gulf 2017’ prize at the 2017 BSME Young Musicians of the Gulf (YMOG) competition in Bahrain.
Given his many performances, I was curious to know which ones stood out in his mind. “I played my first solo concert on 15 October 2017 at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah and it was very enjoyable, and it was wonderful to perform in front of people. I am also very proud of the award I received at the Dubai GCC International music competition in 2012. I was very young, and it was my first competition overseas. I had worked very hard for first place.”
Li is particularly proud about winning the ‘Young Musician of the Gulf 2017’ award, “It was really good to win that as it was a validation of my talents and gave me the confidence to continue my journey as a performer.”
He is aware of people’s perception of him as a child prodigy, but they are wrong he says, “I don’t consider myself a child prodigy. It is about working hard for the best results. I am just an ordinary boy who tries to be the best.” He points to his strict schedule where most of his time is dedicated to practicing his violin and piano for competitions and to sharpen his skills.
Many musicians fall into a trap of comparing themselves to others, but Li has a different response, “I don’t make comparisons with other performers; I prefer to work as hard as I can and to be the best I can be. When you’re good at something, the chances will come automatically. I would much rather work to improve every single day.”
He goes on to add, “Music is about life and your experiences, which helps make your music more unique, and interesting. My experiences have really helped me not only as an artist but as a person in general. Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”
Though music is the main focus in his life, he has a variety of other interesting pursuits too. “My hobbies include sports and among dance, my favorite is ballet. I received a distinction in the grade 8 BBO Ballet Examination, the highest with 97/100 marks!”
While looking forward to his next musical performances, he remains undecided on his future career choices, “I could be a musician when I grow up or something else, my future is not yet decided, and I have a lot of options to consider.”
He is also thankful to all the supporters who helped him reach this level of growth, excellence and recognition, “I am very grateful towards the Kuwait Music Academy, and The British School of Kuwait (BSK). I was taught by some of their best teachers. BSK especially helped me win the BSME Young Musicians of the Gulf (YMOG) competitions.
Mme Vera Al-Mutawa, Founder and Director of BSK, and the BSK teachers supported my participation in many competitions in Kuwait and abroad. I am also very thankful to the Kuwait Music Academy Professors Cezary, Miss Fajer and Mr. Karol for their training and support. I am also thankful to the founder of Concert of Hope, the director of Kuwait English School Madam Rhoda E. Muhmood for trusting me to perform for the Concert of Hope for 8 years.”