Interview with Richard Isaac Cellist for the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra

Though it often seems like the primary occupation of foreigners in Xi’an is in the education industry, there are actually numerous jobs outside of this sector that are available in Xi’an. This month, we interview Richard Isaac, who is working as a professional cellist with the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra.

Why did you decide to stay in Xi’an?

I studied my Bachelors and Masters degrees at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. It just so happens that the principal conductor of the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra, Dane Lam, also used to study there and so that’s how I heard about the cello position in Xi’an. I was looking for an orchestral job at the time and the position in Xi’an seemed like a great opportunity to experience another country and culture whilst doing the job that I love.

What is your impression of Xi’an? What do you like most about it?

I really like living in Xi’an; it’s a great city. It has the perfect mix of traditional culture and modern life. Everything here is so convenient and there is never a dull moment. It is also a great city for the arts, having several great performance venues and music institutions. It is the city I now call home, and can see myself living here for many years to come.

What advice do you have for children who would like to learn more about classical music?

Firstly, I would say that although learning an instrument can be challenging at times we should try to remember that music is something to be enjoyed. We need to work hard practicing our instruments but don’t forget that the ultimate goal we are chasing is to make music, so enjoy the process. Secondly, a good foundation in music theory and aural training will help no end with learning the cello and progressing quickly on the instrument. If we can use our ears well we can easily hear when we are playing out of tune or if the rhythm is not stable. I would recommend all students to take some music theory classes, or at least find a cello teacher that puts a focus on music theory as part of their teaching. I always try to put a strong emphasis on musicianship and music theory with my students. Finally, have patience, don’t give up, practice slowly and with control before increasing the tempo.

What made you want teach music here in Xi’an?

First of all I have enjoyed arranging and recording different music since I was in high school. I was always planning on making videos at some point and like many people in 2020 I found myself with more time on my hands because of the pandemic. Concerts were not going on and I needed another outlet for my creativity so it seemed like the right time.

It seems that you have a soft spot for many Chinese works of music. Why is that? What are some of your favorite pieces?

Having lived in China for around five years I have been introduced to lots of great music that is completely new to me. Through my work with XSO I have been introduced to many of the most well-known traditional Chinese songs as well as some fantastic classical music by Chinese composers like the Butterfly Lovers violin concerto or the music of Zhao Ji Ping. Outside of my work I have also discovered some great Chinese pop music by artists old and new. I think the reason I arrange lots of Chinese music is that it is my way of exploring this new culture and musical world that I have discovered later on in my life and am keen to learn more about.

Outside of work, what sort of activities do you participate in?

One of my favourite things about living in Xi’an is the food. I liked the Chinese food in England but it is nothing compared to the food in Xi’an. Some of the noodles I’ve had here are the some of best I’ve had anywhere in the world. I like how there are so many different restaurants all over the place and they are very affordable and delicious. I find Xi’an’s long history fascinating and I really like that many of the historical features are still standing proud, such as the city wall and the Da Yan Pagoda. I think the traditional styling of many of the buildings really holds on to the cultural roots of the city.

Outside of work, what sort of activities How has your experience teaching at the Rococo Arts Center been?

I have been teaching at Rococo for a few months now. It’s been a wonderful experience so far with all the staff being very welcoming and the students are very enthusiastic and responsive. I have enjoyed getting to know all my individual students and seeing them improve quickly over a relatively short period of time. I have also been taking rehearsals for the cello orchestra which has been a lot of fun. For me the best part of learning an instrument as a child was being able to make music with others as part of an ensemble. This cello orchestra is a really great opportunity for the kids to play chamber music which is not something that every young musician has access to.

What is the ROCOCO Institution of Music?
ROCOCO Institution of Music was established in April 2018 and is a private school approved by the Beilin District Education Bureau. The core members of the teaching team are all veterans who have worked in the music and art education industry for many years.
Rococo can mainly teach professional courses such as orchestral music, keyboards, special chamber music and orchestra lessons, sight singing and ear training. It has advanced teaching concepts, a scientific education system, a strong team of teachers, professional teaching equipment, and adheres to the correct art. The teaching concept is to provide children with professional and scientific art education.
Rococo’s foothold is to create some meaningful educational products and services to make up for the lack of education for children in the current society, and to realize their educational ideals and visions for the future. Respect children’s wishes and interests, use love and patience to help children build self-confidence and self-learning awareness, so that children learn to focus on thinking, understand the meaning of learning, learn to cooperate with others, and make music learning a lifelong benefit thing.
Rococo hopes to use professional and scientific methods to cultivate outstanding music learners, covering instrument teaching, master classes, violin orchestras, summer camps, concerts, etc. Rococo can provide the best quality teaching environment and use our professional strength to serve your children.

Who is Richard?
Richard was born in England and began learning the cello at the age of eight. At just eleven he won a scholarship for enhanced musical studies with the Milton Keynes Music Service.
Following 5 years of study with David Smith at Chetham’s School of Music, Richard studied with Emma Ferrand and Gillian Thoday at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. He has participated in solo masterclasses with Ralph Kirschbaum, Hannah Roberts and Christoph Richter and Karine Georgian.
Richard has performed extensively as a soloist and a chamber musician. Winner of the Gold Medal in the 2009 Ealing Festival Concerto Competition, Richard was also winner of the 2009 Graucob Awards, and won the 2010 Chetham’s School of Music Senior Orchestra String Prize. With the Pether String Trio, he won the 2013 Hirsch Prize.
Richard has been living in China for the past 2 years and is currently working as principal cellist in the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra.