Strik­ing a chord on the global scene

The Chi­nese mu­sic in­dus­try’s in­tent to pro­mote its cul­ture while ex­ert­ing more in­flu­ence on the world stage takes the form of a vi­o­lin com­pe­ti­tion with a mas­sive prize purse

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHANGKUN in Shang­hai zhangkun@chi­

China has through­out the past few decades pro­duced win­ners of many in­ter­na­tional mu­sic awards, from Chopin to Tchaikovsky and Van Cliburn, but the in­au­gu­ral Isaac Stern com­pe­ti­tion in Shang­hai could been seen as a sign that the Chi­nese mu­sic scene is no longer sat­is­fied with just win­ning the tro­phies — it now wants to set the rules.

This new com­pe­ti­tion has the big­gest prize purse among all the other vi­o­lin con­tests in the world. The or­ga­nizer, Shang­hai Sym­phony Orches­tra (SSO), said that it spent the past three years pre­par­ing for the com­pe­ti­tion as it wanted to set the stan­dard high.

Thirty-year-old Ja­pa­nese mu­si­cian Mayu Kishima won the US$100,000 top prize.

The SSO had also man­aged to at­tract big names to judge the com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing vi­olin­ist El­mar Oliveira, con­duc­tor David Stern, and founder of the Heifetz In­ter­na­tional Mu­sic In­sti­tute Daniel Heifetz.

“The launch of a true in­ter­na­tional mu­sic com­pe­ti­tion re­flects China’s cul­tural con­fi­dence, and it plays a big part in pro­mot­ing China’s cul­ture to the out­side world,” said Yu Long, artis­tic di­rec­tor of SSO.

The com­pe­ti­tion be­gan in mid Au­gust when more than 140 young vi­o­lin­ists from 26 coun­tries sub­mit­ted video clip­pings to par­tic­i­pate. Thirty of them made the short­list for the com­pe­ti­tion be­fore seven con­tes­tants com­peted in the fi­nal on Sept 2 at the Shang­hai Sym­phony Hall.

The fi­nal­ists com­peted in sev­eral rounds that in­cluded an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Chi­nese mu­sic, play­ing in a cham­ber con­cert with an im­pro­vised cadenza cre­ation, and play­ing with the full-scale SSO orches­tra in the fi­nal.

In an ef­fort to pro­mote Chi­nese cul­ture, the or­ga­niz­ers in­tro­duced a spe­cial con­test seg­ment that saw con­tes­tants play The But­ter­fly Lovers, a Chi­nese con­certo for vi­o­lin and the pi­ano, dur­ing the semi­fi­nal. This par­tic­u­lar con­test was won by Song Ji-Won from South Korea.

“Chi­nese tend to be­lieve that this piece is fa­mil­iar and fa­mous all over the world, but that is not true,” said Zhou Ping, di­rec­tor of SSO, who shared that most of the con­tes­tants ac­tu­ally had to learn about the story and the Chi­nese folk opera be­hind the piece.

Zhou added that this seg­ment of the com­pe­ti­tion had gen­er­ated so much pub­lic interest in The But­ter­fly Lovers that the mu­sic score sold out in Shang­hai’s book­stores soon af­ter the fi­nal.

“China is gain­ing more and more promi­nence in the global clas­si­cal mu­sic scene, and a true in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion event has been ur­gently needed,” said Zhou.

The or­ga­niz­ers said that they had de­cided to name the com­pe­ti­tion af­ter Isaac Stern (1920-2001), an Amer­i­can vi­olin­ist and con­duc­tor, “not just be­cause he was a great mu­si­cian, but more im­por­tantly, be­cause of his idea and con­tri­bu­tion to the mu­sic world.”

Zhou said that the com­pe­ti­tion was de­signed to be aligned to Stern’s be­lief that all mu­si­cians should seek to un­der­stand mu­sic and why they cre­ate it.

In ad­di­tion, the com­pe­ti­tion pro­gram was also de­signed to test mu­si­cians in “ev­ery pos­si­ble as­pect of mu­sic,” said Chen Qing, head of Guangzhou Sym­phony Orches­tra, who was in at­ten­dance at the fi­nal and of­fered per­for­mance op­por­tu­ni­ties to the fi­nal­ists.

Some of Chen’s peers such as Li Nan, head of the China Phil­har­monic Sym­phony, and Rory Jeffes, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Syd­ney Sym­phony Orches­tra from Aus­tralia, were also at the com­pe­ti­tion to lend their sup­port.

Ac­cord­ing to Li, the three or­ches­tras have made plans to host con­certs for the fi­nal­ists.

Ac­cord­ing to Yu, the Isaac Stern vi­o­lin com­pe­ti­tion will be held ev­ery other year and will seek to make mu­si­cians’ in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Chi­nese mu­sic a reg­u­lar seg­ment. He be­lieves that this will in­her­ently pro­vide China’s mu­sic scene with a wor­thy chal­lenge to carry on their work of cre­at­ing good mu­sic for peo­ple around the world to play.

Yu also spoke of SSO’s com­mit­ment to the en­dur­ing suc­cess of the com­pe­ti­tion, quot­ing Napoleon’s “great­ness is noth­ing un­less it is last­ing”.

“I hope that in 50 years, an es­tab­lished mu­si­cian would say with pride, ‘I was the win­ner of the first Isaac Stern vi­o­lin com­pe­ti­tion ’,” he said.

Li from China Phil­har­monic said that though there are at least 20 mil­lion chil­dren in China who are learn­ing to play the pi­ano, the coun­try still lacks a high-level in­te­grated plat­form for these tal­ents. He also lamented that ex­ist­ing mu­sic com­pe­ti­tions in China are ei­ther too of­fi­cial, which in turn re­sults in a lack of in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence, or too tem­po­rary and dis­ap­pear af­ter sev­eral years.

The com­pe­ti­tion also gave away a spe­cial “Isaac Stern Hu­man Spirit Award” as the or­ga­niz­ers were keen to honor Stern’s con­tri­bu­tion to the mu­sic scene in China.

In 1979, Stern be­came one of the first western mu­si­cians to visit China and un­der his guid­ance and in­flu­ence, many young mu­si­cians went on to achieve in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. The his­toric visit was recorded in the Os­car-win­ning doc­u­men­tary From Mao to Mozart, which cap­tured the mu­si­cal cul­ture of China at that time.

Wu Taix­i­ang and Du Zhengquan, mid­dle school ed­u­ca­tors from Huin­ing, Gansu prov­ince, won this award for their ef­forts in set­ting up a stu­dent orches­tra called “Ein­stein’s Band”.

Wu, the head­mas­ter at the school, had sold his home to buy the first batch of mu­sic in­stru­ments for his stu­dents. Du, the deputy head­mas­ter and the only teacher in the school who had some pro­fi­ciency in mu­sic, was re­spon­si­ble for teach­ing the stu­dents to play the works by Aus­trian com­poser Joseph Haydn.


Ja­pa­nese vi­olin­ist Mayu Kishima per­forms dur­ing the Isaac Stern com­pe­ti­tion in Shang­hai. Kishima walked away with the top prize of US$100,000.

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