Renaat Beheydt, who graduated from the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Belgium, teaches the piano at Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou. He first arrived in Shenzhen in 2009 with his Chinese wife and now thinks himself a local of Shekou. He compares Shenzhen to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”
Video and photos by Lin Jianping, Wang Haolan 视频制作、摄影：林建平、王浩岚
When Renaat Beheydt first learned that he was to migrate to Shenzhen 13 years ago, his response was lukewarm, just like the original audience’s reaction to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”
His wife’s employer GSK wanted to build a plant in the city and sent his wife Zhu Peng, of Chinese origin, to oversee the whole process. His plan was to stay one or two years, and then go back to Belgium.
Renaat Beheydt at an interview with Shenzhen Daily at his home in Shekou, Nanshan District.
“We had visited many cities throughout China before, like Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Luoyang. I really adore cities with a history. So I thought, well, Shenzhen, let’s see. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I like living here.”
The planned sabbatical was extended with Zhu's renewed job contract, and Beheydt himself started to take in students. A graduate of the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel, he had worked as a piano teacher back in his hometown. He also holds a master’s degree in Chinese language, which makes it easier to integrate into local life.
Beheydt said young vibrant Shenzhen immediately made him think of “The Rite of Spring.” “This piece was not very well accepted when it was first performed so people were shouting in the hall, because it was too modern and they couldn’t understand it. But gradually it began to be considered one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.
A view of lush greenery and buildings in Shekou from the balcony of Beheydt's home.
The unstoppable energy that characterizes both “Rite of Spring” and Shenzhen is evident, he said. Standing on his balcony, he explained that Wanghai Road below was just fields and earthen roads when he arrived in Shekou. Now the area is a nice community with housing estates, restaurants, shops and a cultural center. The only two lines of Metro have also grown into an elaborate system to cover the whole city, he added.
Splitting time between his teaching job at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou and practicing and tutoring students in his home in Shekou, Beheydt tries to be part of the city, not as a foreigner, but just as a human being. “I come here, and I feel I must adapt, and I also feel I can contribute something to the society,” he said.
He is amazed that there are facilities for culture in almost all the districts, especially in recent years – there’s a big theater even in Pingshan, which was once thought as a “remote” part of Shenzhen with clusters of factories.
Beheydt shares with Shenzhen Daily readers his views on Shenzhen's cultural events and cultural facilites.
“It’s really a wonderful thing that the offering is immense in concerts and performances. If you want, you could go to a concert almost every day prior to the pandemic,” he said.
His favorite place would still be the Shenzhen Concert Hall in the city center. “The building itself is wonderful, the acoustics are very good, and it’s embedded (among other culture facilities) in the center of the town, opposite the library, next to a beautiful bookstore, and not far from the Shenzhen Museum.
A view of Minghua Cruise in Shekou from the balcony of Beheydt's home.
“It’s a kind of statement of this city that says: Culture is really an important thing for us,” he added. That said, the piano teacher thinks there’s still a long way to go with culture, because Shenzhen doesn’t have a rich cultural tradition and the population is very young, whose top concern is perhaps to become well off.
“They come to Shenzhen to make a good living; they earn money for themselves and for the education of their children. So maybe, concerts, museum visits, or cultural life is not essential,” he said. He observed that children, or music students, often made a big part of the audience members at most of the concerts he went to, even when the program was something difficult like the “Goldberg Variations.” “It’s fine that parents want their kids to be cultivated,” he said, adding that he hopes to see more adult fans at concerts.
“So I think education is an important part in that, maybe more important than in Europe, where people already have a good acquaintance with the repertoire in general, and know the pieces which are going to be played.”
He cited some good initiatives in promoting classical music in Shenzhen, like the Beautiful Sunday free concerts at Shenzhen Concert Hall, and hopes these kinds of initiatives can reach a larger audience. He himself has performed several times at the free concerts.
Beheydt plays a piano piece for Shenzhen Daily journalists at his home.
Due to some special circumstances, Beheydt played a lot of music by Chu Wanghua, one of the composers behind the “Yellow River Piano Concerto.” But Chu is not the only Chinese composer he likes.
“The more I play, the more I listen, the more wonderful Chinese composers and pieces I discover,” he said.
“When I listen or play a Chinese piece, I like to hear these three things. I like to hear that this composer is part of his time, he being a Chinese, and also a lot of personality.”
A devoted teacher, Beheydt is loved by his pupils.
Beheydt gives a piano lesson to a student at his home.
“I’ve studied with Professor Beheydt for seven years now,” said a pupil who is now a freshman piano major at Toronto University. “I still remember once he pointed out to me that I had made the same mistake for a seventh time when I first became his student. Since then, I have put in more effort,” she recalled.
The Belgian is also impressed by the diligence of his Chinese students.
“Some of them are musically talented,” he said. “Only by artistic intuition, without the cultural background, they can play very well.”
He is also aware of Shenzhen’s piano fever.
“The city has produced a large number of important pianists, especially from professor Dan Zhaoyi at Shenzhen Art School, who contributed a lot to Chinese piano music. Without Shenzhen, it would be very different,” he said.