Ruiqi Ren, a modern and baroque violinist from China, is now in her second year of pursuing a Historical Performance master's degree after beginning her education in the U.S. at Oberlin College. Learn more about Ruiqi’s extensive travels throughout the world, her secret hobby, and her passion to bring the Historical Performance movement to China.
Tell us about starting to play the violin.
I started my violin playing at the age of 6, enrolled in Wuhan Conservatory at8, and spent the next eight years studying with some of the most inspiring teachers I could ever ask for. I was very lucky because my teacher Yaoxi Zhu not only taught me how to play the violin, but also showed me how to be a good person and always be open minded to embrace different perspectives in life. I started to give recitals in middle school and had the good fortune to meet sponsors through concerts who later became great mentors. They have lent me amazing instruments and supported me in going for major competitions. During high school, I started receiving invitations to play concerts in other cities and truly enjoyed being on stage and building connections with my audience though music. But learning never stops. Before I graduated from high school, I took the chance to audition for Oberlin's conservatory, which became one of the best decisions I ever made.
How did you get interested in Historical Performance?
At Oberlin I was fortunate to have a teacher who was familiar with both modern and baroque violin. I remember seeing the “unconventional” baroque violin for the first time and not being interested. My mind changed when I attended a concert by Apollo’s Fire [the Cleveland baroque orchestra]. I was deeply impressed by their expressiveness and fascinated by the huge range of repertoire that I was unfamiliar with—I remember getting goosebumps as I listened to them for the first time and thinking that I needed to learn baroque violin immediately.
Milan, Leipzig, and San Francisco are just a few locations you’ve recently visited for performances. As a performer, how do you adjust to new locations and prepare for new spaces?
I never really feel the need to adjust to new locations when traveling abroad. I absolutely love going to different places and exploring various cultures as much as I can. I’ve never been anxious about traveling to a new country just because I do not know the language. Part of the reason for this is that I see the world as one. What I mean to say is that there is no separation between countries, languages, and cultures. The earth is our mother, so no matter where I go, I’m going home. I also enjoy getting to know people from different countries. One of my inspirations for my music comes from the different people I have gotten to know. Everyday I am ready to be inspired by others, and I always strive to create something new in life. One of the best things we can do with our gifts is reaching out to people through our music. As a performer, no matter where I am it is my job to be present and deliver the messages through my heart to the audience. The more I perform, the more I feel a responsibility to bring people together through our art-making, and together to create something meaningful in life.
Do you have any stories about differences you didn’t expect from the different locales you’ve lived in?
One thing I wasn’t expecting when I was in Europe this summer was that there was no air conditioning. It was awfully hot and I had to climb large hills up and down at least three times a day to get to my lessons and rehearsals. It was pretty miserable for the first couple days and I was constantly being attacked by those heartless mosquitoes. However, life felt so much happier once I got a fan in my room. I have also learned that no matter how hard and different the environment is, our body will always get used to the new conditions after a while. Then we are able to enjoy the beauty in life again with great positivity.
You’ve mentioned before that you would like to bring early music to China. What does this look like for you?
One of the reasons I decided to study early music is to bring the Historical Performance movement to China. I see my time here as an opportunity to bring something valuable and to make a positive influence to the musicians back in China. Two years ago, my friends and I formed the very first early-music ensemble based in Shanghai. It's called Shanghai Camerata and consists of excellent musicians who have been studying early music throughout the world. We have been giving concerts and lectures at different venues on a regular basis. The reception has also been very successful and rewarding. We have bought our own instruments and commissioned a harpsichord from Europe, which often gets the most attention among the audience, since it is an instrument they are not familiar with. In the future, we will have more collaborations and chances to further introduce the beauty of early music to different cities.
If you were to give our readers a tour of your hometown, what would you suggest we do?
I would totally suggest you visit a place called Luoyang because it is a very different city even when compared to other places in China. The history of Luoyang dates way back to the late Neolithic period. The city is located in the confluence area of the Luo and Yellow rivers, and it is one of the four great ancient capitals in China. People can go visit the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in China, the historical architectures in the city, and get in touch with the history of Silk Road! In addition to that, the food! Luoyang has a great reputation for its cuisine. The most famous restaurant is called Water Banquet, which consists of 8 cold and 16 warm dishes all cooked with different ingredients! If you are a noodle lover, there are tremendous amounts of noodle dishes all made in different broths and gravies—yummy.
In addition to your performance pursuits, you are also editor-in-chief of the bilingual musician magazine Along. Can you tell us more about it and your role?
This international bilingual musician magazine is aimed to build a cross-cultural communicative platform through art and music. It presents a way for us, as musicians, to spread our message of love and hope through our musical languages while promoting cultural awareness and understanding. I invite musicians and artists of different ages to talk about whatever they would like to share with their audience. They can speak about their thoughts on music, their inspirations in life, and what kind of obstacles they have encountered and how did they solved them. Everything! By doing this I wish to provide more opportunities for the audiences to get to know these great artists better, and be able to learn from their stories, as well as to alleviate this invisible distance between the musician and the audience.
Do you have any secret hobbies?
I guess my secret hobby is that I often need to save time during the day to be absolutely alone. It could be me walking by myself in an unfamiliar neighborhood, visiting different coffee shops or bakeries, or meditating next to the river. I enjoy putting myself into the serenity of nature and trying to re-find the peace in my heart. It is a great way for me to remind myself who I am and what I want to do in life. I also love talking to friends who are not musicians, they help me to jump outside of this musical box we live in and feed me more ideas from a different perspective.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I have been feeling extremely lucky and grateful that I have encountered so many truly inspiring and kindhearted people in life. I would like to express my gratitude to my loving family, my inspiring friend Rachell Wong, who is always there for me and constantly reminds me of what a true musician should be like, my mentors at Juilliard, and my very caring boyfriend, Xiaomeng. They have brought so much sunshine in my life, and I will always carry their love in me wherever I go.