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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Q&A | 22 Questions for Teng Li

By Michael Vincent on June 16, 2015

Violist Teng Li Photo: Bo Huang
Violist Teng Li (Photo: Bo Huang)

Every so often, MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist in Toronto who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers. A kind of Rorschach personality test, if you will.

If you’ve every been to a Toronto Symphony Orchestra performance, you’ve already heard the Toronto-based Principal Violist Teng Li. Besides her job with the TSO, she has had a busy career as a soloist and chamber musician participating in the festivals of Marlboro, Santa Fe, Mostly Mozart, Music from Angel Fire, Rome, Moritzburg (Germany) and the Rising Stars Festival in Caramoor. Li has performed with the Guarneri Quartet in New York (04/05), at Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall). She was also featured with the Guarneri Quartet in their last season (2009) and was also a member of the prestigious Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society Two Program.

Throughout Li’s many international engagements, she has always carried a particular affinity for the turbulent musical period around 1939 – especially Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Viola and Piano. This obsession has prompted the release of Li’s debut CD, 1939, which explores the music of composers Joseph Jongen, Viktor Ullmann, Paul Hindemith and Yanjun Hua. If you’re interested in hearing it before it comes out, CBC First Play are steaming it all week here.


What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?

I love Toronto for its multiculturalism, its vibrant, artsy atmosphere, and its amazing variety of Chinese restaurants.

What are three things that Toronto doesn’t have but should?

A better Metropass system, an extended subway map, and a more affordable housing market.

Default drink/cocktail of choice?

Steam Whistle beer is my favorite after-concert drink. The refreshing taste always satisfies my after-concert thirst.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue in Toronto.

I like Koerner Hall for its amazing acoustics, and central location.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue anywhere.

The legendary Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Your role models?

Soprano Barbara Hannigan, Violist Tabea Zimmermann, and my teacher Michael Tree of the Guarneri Quartet.

Your favourite sound?

Sounds of nature: bird calls, the sound of raindrops, wind blowing leaves.

Your least favourite sound?

The noise of the subway train squeaking to a stop at each station.

Your favourite smells?

Freshly made food! And the smell of a freshly mowed lawn.

Your least favourite smells?

Rotten food.

The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair?

I lived in the dorm in the Central Conservatory from age 9, and once I tried to fix a section of my hair that was all tangled up by cutting it off… I looked like I had very artistic bald spots on my head for quite a long time.

The strangest talent that you possess?

Multitasking – I can knit, watch TV, read my book and Facebook all at the same time.

The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Toronto.

Amazing restaurants everywhere, very good food courts in the Path, and Condo building everywhere.

The historical personalities, both good and bad that fascinate you the most?

Genghis Khan.

What is your biggest phobia?

Sit on my instrument, or crush my instrument by accident.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?

If I have a European Visa ready, I would go to Munich, and if I have an American Visa ready, I would go to New York.

The strangest place you’ve ever been to?

I was in the back of a police car once… I was a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. I had a bike that one of my good friends sold to me for next to nothing. One day, I was locking my apartment, and the bike was taken by a kid. I chased him for a few blocks, saw a police car on the street, and told the police officer. She put me in the back of the police car and drove me around to looked for my bike. We never found it.

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?

The Gadfly (Chinese translation), all books by Louis Cha Leung-yung (金庸), and Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦).

Three things of no monetary value that you own and will keep dearly until you die?

Family photos, rocks from my childhood, and my husband’s wedding vows.

Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?

My family and I went to Thailand in December for a vacation.

The first three things that you do every morning?

Drink warm water with my homemade lemon honey mixture, thank my amazing husband for making breakfast, enjoy my breakfast.

The strangest road you’ve ever travelled?

When I was a young child, my father would take me to my violin lessons. We would get up around midnight, bike for an hour from one side of the city to the other (on one bike), then take a passing train from Nanjing to Shanghai. We’d usually arrive in Shanghai around 6 AM, hurry to the Cafeteria of Shanghai Conservatory to have a quick breakfast, and warm up a little bit before my lesson. After my 8 AM lesson, father would then take me home. We did this routine every weekend for a long time. On these trips, I have slept on the luggage rack, on newspapers under the seats and met many variety of people.


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Michael Vincent
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