Playing alongside a world-class musician is only an idle fantasy for most Hongkongers. But for two local brothers, Gordon and Alex Lau, that fantasy became a reality when they were invited to perform with Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists at the farewell concert of Musicus Fest.
The brothers, currently studying at Methodist College, were born to a family of musicians. Their father is a violin and viola teacher and their mother a piano player. Gordon, 15, has followed in his father's footsteps and plays the violin and viola, while Alex, 12, is a cellist.
As part of the Musicus Fest 2014, The Musicus Inspires program is created by the Musicus Society in partnership with children's charity Unicef.
Both boys are grateful to have taken part in the programme, which offered them the opportunity to play alongside Bashmet, a Grammy Award-winning maestro. He is a world-class conductor, violinist, violist (viola player) and founder of the Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra.
"Being able to practise and perform with the Moscow Soloists was a great honour. Yuri Bashmet is my idol and it was because of him that I changed to playing the viola from the violin," says Gordon.
Alex adds: "Playing on the same stage, learning from the Moscow Soloists and having Yuri Bashmet share his experience with us was the best part of the concert."
The brothers also feel they have learned a lot from this experience. Even small changes to their performance made a big difference to the overall show. Alex says he even learned new things just from having a different instructor. "Normal instructors teach right-hand techniques, which are bow techniques. But the instructor at the event taught left-hand techniques as well, such as vibrato," he says.
But the concert was not all fun and games. Gordon learned a valuable lesson about the importance of being prepared. "There was one rehearsal where I didn't prepare enough after I was given the music sheet. I got yelled at," he says. Alex adds: "Don't slack off."
Still, both brothers say that the concert was a valuable chance for them to share the stage with overseas performers.
One of the things both brothers agree on is that music should be about the art, not résumé padding or exams. "We grew up in a musical environment under musician parents. Music is special, it makes life colourful," says Gordon.
Seeing their friends pushed into learning music for exams has only strengthened their view that music is a creative passion.
But they also say that parental pressure is not always bad. Gordon knows very well the feeling of wanting to give up. "There was a stage when I thought the violin was boring and wanted to quit. But my father pushed me very hard to practise, so I was forced to carry on. That was a learning experience. But many of my activities were related to music, so it wasn't easy to just cut it out. But thanks to my friends and their support, I got through that stage. After being forced to practise, my views have changed. I would have regretted giving up."
Alex says he would not have got so far as a musician without support from his parents, teachers and friends. He understands the demands placed on students but talks about the importance of persistence. "Homework gets in the way of music. But don't give up and stick to it."
He adds, "Everyone tells me that secondary school is an important stage in life. I will take it seriously. I don't want to waste it."
And Gordon says their success is based on commitment. "My own goal is to be a musician. It's a way to motivate myself. Everyone should have goals."