Halfway through French Spirit, the opening program of the 14th Meet in Beijing Arts Festival, lights dimmed and two pianos were moved to center stage at the National Center for the Performing Arts.
Philippe Entremont, the renowned French pianist and conductor, was at one piano while Tian Jiaxin, a 27-year-old pianist from Beijing, walked to the other.
Accompanied by the China National Opera House Symphony Orchestra, the two played Mozart's Piano Concerto No 10 in E－flat major.
While Entremont was switching his roles between pianist and conductor, the two sounded like one person playing onstage, winning long applause from the audience.
Though they have performed in the United States together, it was their first joint performance in China, which made Tian proud.
"For a young pianist, it's really a honor to be his student and I am so lucky to even play with him," she says. "He inspires me and has broadened my vision about expressing myself through music. He is my mentor."
He is also a good friend. Two days before the concert, they chat happily in Entremont's Beijing hotel, full of the same fun and joy they bring to their pianos onstage.
"You will have your 80-year-old birthday in June and I will give you a present, but I won't tell you what it is now," says Tian.
"I hope it's not a bomb," says the maestro.
The two laugh loudly.
Tian credits Entremont with helping her to rise to any occasion.
"He is just like a child, and that's why he plays piano so purely, like clean water. Every single moment we spend together, I could learn from him," she says.
"I like playing with young pianists because they are always full of passion for music," says Entremont. "There are thousands of young pianists around the world but if there is a talent, then she is the one. She has good technique, which is very rare, and a good personality."
It all started with a double piano award, which Tian won in January 2012 in New York. Her prize was an opportunity to play with Entremont and the symphony orchestra of the Manhattan School of Music under the baton of Entremont.
"Mozart's D-minor Piano Concerto No 20, K 466 was one of his favorites, and he talked with me for over an hour about the piece during our first rehearsal," recalls Tian, who earned a master of music degree at Manhattan School of Music in 2012, and in 2013 completed a professional studies degree there.
"You don't go to Mozart. Mozart goes to you," says the maestro. "I feel sorry for those who cannot play Mozart well. It's really a gift."
He first came to China 45 years ago, and Entremont says he is impressed by China's dramatic changes and developments, especially people's enthusiastic passion for classical music. In 2002, he was principal guest conductor of the Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra.
Tian's 2012 performance in Manhattan received a good review from The New York Times: "Ms Tian mirrored the ensemble's passion and energetic commitment."
In February 2013, Tian held her solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall. A year later, she gave another solo recital at Lincoln Center.
The two established venues for Tian were milestones in her career. But what surprised her most was the day at Carnegie Hall. At the end of the performance, Entremont walked up from the last row to the stage and gave Tian a big hug.
"It was a great recognition for a Beijing girl," she says.
Born into a family of professional musicians in the capital, Tian began playing the piano at age 3. But unlike other Chinese prodigies who embark on a musical path that includes intensive conservatory training, Tian followed a more ordinary road, attending elementary school, middle school and high school in Beijing.
She says the experiences that she may have missed in music conservatories help her interpret music.
In 2010, she left China to attend Manhattan School of Music on a scholarship under faculty member and critically acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Cohen.
"Like the cooperation between me and the maestro, I am very interested in the cooperation between China and the West. I hope we can have more performances together," she says.
For pianists, East meets West at the keyboards- Chinadaily.com.cn