Fiona Zheng is a violinist with the New York-based Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra. Zheng was born in China and began playing the violin when she was 5 years old.
She made her debut at Carnegie Hall in 2015 and received considerable praise for her performance of Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), a piece by Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate, with Milen Nachev conducting.
Zigeunerweisen is based on themes of the Roma people, and soloist Zheng connects with this feeling, as her family, like the Roma, had to move around China to avoid persecution. Sadly, Zheng lost her brother, mother, and grandmother to torture and persecution at the hands of Chinese authorities (their deaths were just over 2 weeks apart).
Her family practices Falun Dafa, a spiritual practice based on meditation and slow-moving exercises, which follows the principles Truth, Compassion, and Tolerance. In 1999, Jiang Zemin, the then-leader of the Chinese Communist Party, issued orders to eradicate Falun Dafa from Chinese society. The persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners continues today.
In a Q&A session on the Shen Yun website, Fiona Zheng discussed her interpretation of Pablo de Sarasate’s classic, Zigeunerweisen:
“I generally split the piece into three parts. Most people interpret the first section as intense, but I find it has more of a helplessness and sadness about it. The second portion has freer rhythms and transitions to a different mood. Lastly, I envision the allegro section as a lighthearted, joyful dance. Actually, when I was younger, ‘Zigeunerweisen’ was my favorite piece because I enjoyed the liveliness of the third part. Nowadays, I prefer the second part because I feel it can reflect my inner self. Usually before playing this piece, I’ll imagine playing it for someone very close, like a best friend.
Actually, I do have a very personal interpretation of this piece — it reminds me of my experiences in China. When I was 3, my grandmother began practicing Falun Dafa. She was the first in our family. She used to have many ailments, such as high blood pressure, and her hips were covered in boils. But after starting this meditation exercise, these miraculously disappeared. Naturally, we all saw the changes in her and soon my entire family starting practicing Falun Gong.
But in 1999, the Chinese Communist Party launched a nationwide crackdown and began persecuting Falun Dafa practitioners. In 2006, policemen barged into our home, took all of our Falun Dafa books, and arrested my mother and grandmother. Both my mother and grandmother passed away from torture and persecution — their deaths only 15 days apart.
Afterwards, my father and I were constantly on the move — like the gypsies that inspired Sarasate’s ‘Zigeunerweisen’ — always roaming around to avoid persecution. I was constantly terrified that I would be arrested, and I never understood why the Chinese Communist regime was treating us like this. Is there anything wrong with believing in “Truth, Compassion, and Tolerance”? Why are they persecuting innocent people?
Fortunately, I came to America, and since then, life has been much better. But even after coming to a free society, for the first six months, I still felt like I was living in the nightmare of persecution. Every time I saw a police car, it seemed like my heart would jump. Even when I meditated by myself in my room, I would close all the blinds, and never dared to do the Falun Dafa exercises outside, say, in a park. It took me half a year in the United States before I started leaving the curtains open.
So, after experiencing all of this, I feel a stronger connection to this piece.”
Zheng believes the secret to her development as a musician comes from her desire to improve her character:
“I believe that when you improve your moral character and constantly elevate your spiritual realm, your craft will improve as well, just as if the divine is guiding you.”
The Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra, combining both Eastern and Western instruments, plays Chinese and Western compositions, resulting in the perfect harmony of classical music of both East and West. Their music can also be heard while touring with Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Shen Yun Performing Arts is currently touring worldwide.