Nauen (left of two violinists standing) plays with members of her
amateur orchestra. Provided to China Daily
Maria Nauen is leading the way in amateur
classical music in Beijing. Zou Hong /
Russian professional Maria Nauen inspires new talent in Beijing
Maria Nauen sat up straight with her head leaning slightly to the right, a trademark gesture which was created by her career as a professional violinist.
However, as an artist who started to learn the piano at six and then turned to the violin at 10, Nauen is again exploring amateur music after moving to Beijing in 2006.
Nauen was born into a family of professional artists in Vladivostok, Russia, in 1971. She graduated from the Pedagogical Music College and has played around the world as a professional violinist.
Nevertheless, the musician, who said she "cannot live without music", was frustrated to find she could not join a local symphony orchestra after settling down in Beijing with her German husband.
Unperturbed, Nauen finally decided to set up an idealistic music kingdom of her own, which she named as the Beijing International Chamber Orchestra.
Founded in September 2007, the orchestra is revolutionary in style. Its biggest single difference is that all its members play part-time.
Half do not have music college certificates, viewed in China as the only proof of being a professional.
Her "amateur orchestra", as Nauen puts it, is a brand new concept in China. Chinese people usually aren't keen to watch amateur performances, but in Europe, Nauen notes they are a widely accepted notion where the association with inferiority simply doesn't exist.
Nauen has no strict standards for selecting musicians. There are no age limits and nationality is not a problem. She will let anyone join the orchestra if they can play whatever they like in a relaxed style in front of her. However, her one requirement has caused its own embarrassing situations.
She recalled how a young man once played wonderfully at an audition. After Nauen allowed him to become part of the group, she discovered he could only play one piece.
Another time, a man attempted to prove his ability by telling Nauen he had been learning the violin for three months.
The orchestra has more than 30 members, from 15 nationalities. To start with, they played at international schools and international communities, but as their name became more known, they played to a growing number of local audiences.
In their most recent performance in Tianjin, Nauen said there was not a single foreigner in the audience. It was when they clapped on their feet that she felt true accomplishment.
Presenting an audience with a flawless and passionate performance needs constant rehearsal, which is a problem when musicians can only play during their free time.
"Many times, my musicians come to play after work, from as far away as Haidian district - despite the summer heat and winter chills," she said.
"They were so exhausted, but when they started playing their eyes lit up and they looked happy."
With all the ticket revenue going to cover the daily expenses of the orchestra, the musicians only earn recognition from the audience, she said.
"If we ever receive sponsorship, the performers split the money up with equal shares for everyone.
"There is no division of classes or levels in our orchestra," she said.
The orchestra is readying itself to perform in Russia, for its first show outside of China.