President Peter Stoicheff announced the significant gift at the department of music’s annual student scholarship awards event on April 2. “By establishing a strings program, the Kaplan Chair will make our music program a destination of choice for emerging musicians on the prairies. I’m especially pleased this gift will help us contribute further to our local classical music community and deepen our long-term relationship with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra,” he said.
Both Xu and Chen graduated with a master's degree in music at the U of S. Their ongoing commitment to the university stems from their appreciation for their former music professor and mentor, David L. Kaplan, who taught for more than 30 years. Professor Kaplan also played several instruments, composed numerous pieces of music and conducted orchestras and bands, including the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. In recognition of his influence, David L. Kaplan became a member of the Order of Canada in 2002 and was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2006. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 91.
"He embraced us with profound love and care when we first arrived to Canada from China in the 1980's as graduate students," said Xu. "His strength of character, warmth and unconditional devotion to his students serve as the model by which we—and countless others—live our lives. The way he treated us left a deep impression on me, and I thought of him as a role model as I started my own career as a consultant for Chinese students who wanted to study overseas." Since returning to China, Xu has co-founded New Oriental Education & Technology Group in 1993, the largest provider of private education in China, and established ZhenFund in 2011, to promote and support innovation among youth in China. ZhenFund has been ranked as the Best Early-Stage Investment Firm in China by Zero2IPO Group for the last three consecutive years. Xu's investment success earned him a spot on Forbes Magazine's Midas List, as one of the world's top 100 venture capitalists in 2016.
The Kaplan Chair—expected to be in place by July, 2018—will develop a strings program in the department, to assume a leading instruction role province-wide. Greg Marion, head of the department of music, said the donation will "transform" the department, inspiring students by exposing them to the talents of an accomplished scholar. Additionally, the Chair will foster international relations, with a focus on China, and give music students world-wide travel opportunities not currently available in Saskatchewan music programs. The gift will also preserve two significant instrument collections: the Amati strings, a rare set from 17th-century Italy, and Kaplan's own historical and indigenous instrument collection, which he donated to the department in 2013.
Marion added, "We could not be more appreciative of this extraordinary gift from two extraordinary individuals, who once again, have honoured the memory of one of our most celebrated and esteemed faculty members."