Music makes its mark abroad
The upcoming annual Grand Chinese New Year Concert, which turns 20 next year, has toured more than 20 countries, and 13 Chinese folk music orchestras have performed. Chen Nan reports.
Chinese conductor Hong Xia had her most memorable birthday as she led the Chinese Traditional Orchestra of the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater at the KKL (the Culture and Convention Centre) in Lucerne, Switzerland.
As the show ended on Jan 29, 2016, Wu Jiatong, CEO of Wu Promotion — one of China’s first private touring companies and promoters — which was organizing the orchestra’s European tour, came onto the stage.
“When Wu walked to me, I thought he was going to give a short speech,” says Hong, who was surprised with cake and flowers.
The KKL is special for Hong because this was the same venue where the late conductor Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) gave his final concert.
“Abbado is one of my favorite conductors and I felt honored to be at the venue,” says Hong, a graduate of the Shenyang Conservatory of Music.
The concert was a great success with a full house of over 2,000 giving the orchestra a prolonged ovation.
On Jan 27, 2017, Hong will again lead the Chinese Traditional Orchestra at the KKL as part of its upcoming European tour, which will kick off on Jan 16 from Budapest, Hungary, and conclude in Erl, Austria, on Jan 29.
Speaking about last year’s KKL concert, Hong says: “I thought the bulk of the audience for a traditional Chinese folk music concert would be overseas Chinese. I did not expect that the majority of the audience would be Westerners,” she says.
“Their warm feedback was encouraging, and we are looking forward to our upcoming show.”
The upcoming program will feature well-known music pieces, including The Great Wall Capriccio ( erhu concerto) by Chinese composer Liu Wenjin (1937-2013) and Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge composed by Liu Xijin.
The Chinese Traditional Orchestra is one of the four Chinese folk music orchestras that will go abroad during the 2017 Chinese Spring Festival with the support of Wu Promotion.
Called the Grand Chinese New Year Concert tour, it comprises more than 300 Chinese musicians from the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater, the Guangdong National Orchestra of China, the Zhejiang Traditional Orchestra and the Shaanxi Broadcasting Chinese Orchestra. The tour will cover 27 cities in 14 countries, including Kazakhstan, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and the United Kingdom.
According to Wu, each performance will open with an introduction of the program and explain the uniqueness of traditional Chinese instruments, to enable Western audiences to get a better understanding of the music.
“The Grand Chinese New Year Concert tour will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year,” says Wu, who founded Wu Promotion with his father in 1991.
The company now produces over 500 concerts and events every year in China and abroad, and it has just wrapped up the China Philharmon- ic Orchestra’s debut tour of Cuba.
Besides the Grand Chinese New Year Concert tour, one of their wellknown projects, is their annual Peking Opera Festival, which marked its eighth edition in 2016. It was staged at the Darwin Entertainment Centre, Australia, from Nov 29 to Dec 1.
Despite all the events that Wu Promotion does, the Grand Chinese New Year Concert has a special place.
Recalling the first concert at the Vienna Musikverein in 1998 with the China National Traditional Orchestra under the baton of conductor Chen Xieyang, Wu, who was born in Beijing and pursued his studies in Austria, says: “Tickets were sold out and even the steps at the venue were taken up.
“It was an unexpected success and since then we use the Grand Chinese New Year Concert tour as an annual event to display our traditional folk music to foreign audiences.”
So far, the Grand Chinese New Year Concert shows have been seen by more than 300,000 people in more than 20 countries. And 13 Chinese folk music orchestras have performed as part of the project, presenting the sounds of the horseheaded fiddle from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and the Cantonese melodies from the gaohu (a Chinese bowed instrument) among other items.
Switzerland has hosted the largest number of Grand Chinese New Year Concert shows, starting in 2006, when Wu Promotion took the China Traditional Orchestra Zhejiang to perform at the KKL under the baton of conductor Zhang Guoyong.
On that visit to Switzerland, Wu says Swiss Television gave six hours of coverage to the event, including broadcasting the concert and documentaries on traditional Chinese musicians and their instruments.
Since then, Wu Promotion has taken many Chinese music orchestras and art troupes to Switzerland.
Separately, it has also brought Swiss art troupes to China, including The Grand Theatre de Geneve Ballet Company, which toured China in April 2016.
Meanwhile, at the 7 th Peking Opera Festival in Geneva in 2015, the president of The Grand Theater de Geneva, Tobias Richter, spoke to Wu about “moving” the Opera des Nations to China after mid-2018, when the renovations of The Grand Theater de Geneva, built in 1876, are completed.
The Opera de Nations is a wooden theater that served as a temporary venue for La Comedie-Francaise during its renovation. It was refurbished and moved to Geneva to serve as a temporary replacement for The Grand Theater — the biggest opera house in the French-speaking part of Switzerland — during the renovations.
Geneva has agreed to give the Opera des Nations as a friendship gift to China.
“This will be a historic event for both China and Switzerland and will serve as a cultural bond between the two countries,” says Wu.
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Top: Above left:
The Guangdong National Orchestra of China will be one of the four folk music orchestras to join the upcoming Grand Chinese New Year Concert tour in Europe. Drummer Chen Zuohui performs at a 2008 Chinese New Year concert. Above right: Audiences attend a Chinese New Year concert in Bremen, Germany.