Young au­di­ences de­velop an ear for clas­si­cal mu­sic

Per­for­mances em­braced by vi­brant con­cert­go­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - By CHEN NAN chen­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

Be­fore 8 am on a chilly Satur­day last month, peo­ple were lin­ing up out­side the Na­tional Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in Bei­jing.

That day — Dec 22 — more than 50 pub­lic pro­grams were staged to cel­e­brate the cen­ter’s 11th an­niver­sary. The venue opened to au­di­ences for free, a tra­di­tion since 2009.

Among the 10,000 peo­ple who went to the cen­ter that day was 12-year-old Bei­jing na­tive Kang Ning, a big fan of Ja­panese direc­tor Hayao Miyazaki’s an­i­mated films and their mu­si­cal scores com­posed by his com­pa­triot, Joe Hi­saishi.

The boy was ea­gerly await­ing a live per­for­mance by the NCPA Or­ches­tra fea­tur­ing mu­sic from Miyazaki’s films, in­clud­ing Spir­ited Away and La­puta: Cas­tle in the Sky.

“The or­ches­trated ver­sions of the songs are beau­ti­ful. It’s a fun idea and it works. I want to lis­ten to more mu­sic by the or­ches­tra,” he said af­ter­ward.

In­tro­duced to mu­sic by his un­cle, who plays elec­tric gui­tar, Ning stud­ied pi­ano when he was 6, and has been sing­ing in his school choir for six years. Al­though be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian is not high on his agenda, he en­joys lis­ten­ing to dif­fer­ent types of mu­sic, es­pe­cially clas­si­cal.

A clas­si­cal mu­sic per­for­mance of­ten con­jures up im­ages of older con­cert­go­ers, the wealthy, and even for­mal at­tire, but the younger gen­er­a­tion in China is now em­brac­ing the genre.

The NCPA’s slo­gan is “art changes life”, which was the case with Bei­jing na­tive Zhang Zhengchen when he was 13.

In 2010, when the NCPA staged its pro­duc­tion of French com­poser Ge­orges Bizet’s op­er­atic master­piece

Car­men, au­di­tions were held in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal to se­lect child singers.

At the time, Zhang, a stu­dent at Bei­jing No 171 Mid­dle School, joined the au­di­tion as a mem­ber of his school choir. Zhang, who started to play pi­ano when he was 4, stood out from his peers and played a role in the opera, which was di­rected by Francesca Zam­bello from the United States.

In a re­hearsal room at the NCPA, Zhang met with Chi­nese con­duc­tor Chen Zuo­huang, and was im­pressed by the way in which he used the ba­ton.

“I want to be­come a con­duc­tor,” Zhang told Chen, the NCPA’s found­ing mu­sic direc­tor.

Chen told him: “Train­ing to be­come a con­duc­tor and di­rect­ing an or­ches­tra are very hard. You have to be pre­pared.”

Un­daunted, Zhang ap­plied to the mid­dle school af­fil­i­ated to the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic and now, age 21, is a se­nior at the in­sti­tu­tion with a ma­jor in con­duct­ing.

“It was a crazy idea. I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in mu­sic, but I never planned to be­come a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian,” said Zhang, who will fur­ther his con­duct­ing stud­ies at the con­ser­va­tory af­ter grad­u­at­ing in the sum­mer with his bach­e­lor’s de­gree.

“It was not easy to get ad­mit­ted, but it is cer­tainly one of my most ex­cit­ing and mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences,” Zhang said.

On Dec 22, Zhang took part in the pub­lic art pro­grams at the NCPA and per­formed with pi­anist Sheng Yuan and Yuan Sha, who plays the

guzheng, a Chi­nese type of zither. Lyu Jia, mu­sic direc­tor of the NCPA and prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor of its or­ches­tra and cho­rus, said: “It is such an en­cour­ag­ing en­vi­ron­ment for clas­si­cal mu­sic to de­velop in China. The coun­try has a healthy mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and a large num­ber of young peo­ple who are cur­rently study­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, whether in schools or with pri­vate tu­tors. Most im­por­tant, they re­main pas­sion­ate and ex­u­ber­ant.”

The av­er­age age of mu­si­cians with the NCPA Or­ches­tra and NCPA Cho­rus is 30.

Lyu, a Shang­hai na­tive born into a mu­si­cal fam­ily in 1964, stud­ied pi­ano and cello at a young age. He has ap­peared at many Euro­pean opera houses, in­clud­ing La Scala and the Verona Opera in Italy, and Deutsche Opera Ber­lin in Ger­many.

He re­turned to China, joined the NCPA in 2012, and feels that the young au­di­ences now at­tend­ing con­certs re­flect a boom in clas­si­cal mu­sic.

Lyu said: “When I worked in Europe, I was part of the clas­si­cal mu­sic scene there. Com­pared with Europe, clas­si­cal mu­sic au­di­ences in China are very young and vi­brant. I re­turned home and joined the NCPA be­cause it’s much more ex­cit­ing to be part of the coun­try’s clas­si­cal mu­sic scene. It’s very re­ward­ing to see so many young peo­ple in the au­di­ence now.”

The NCPA, also known as “the egg”, was de­signed by French ar­chi­tect Paul An­dreu. It has been the talk of the world’s per­form­ing arts in­dus­try since it opened in De­cem­ber 2007, at­tract­ing per­for­mances by a long list of top in­ter­na­tional artists and sym­phony or­ches­tras.

More than 9,600 per­for­mances have been staged at the venue since 2007, and last year alone, more than 900 were held there.

Lyu also said clas­si­cal mu­sic in China be­gan to be­come more pop­u­lar af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy was in­tro­duced 40 years ago.

“Many young peo­ple be­came fix­ated with clas­si­cal mu­sic due to their par­ents. It’s not un­usual for par­ents to in­tro­duce their kids to mu­sic. What ex­cites me is that young peo­ple are not re­ject­ing this mu­sic and are dis­cov­er­ing it on their own when they grow up,” he said.

At a time when most opera houses around the world are cut­ting their bud­gets, the NCPA has staged its own op­er­atic pro­duc­tions, and holds an an­nual fes­ti­val at which dozens of of­fer­ings from over­seas are per­formed.

It also launched an opera film project in 2013 to widen the pop­u­lar­ity of clas­si­cal mu­sic. Of the 76 op­eras the NCPA has pro­duced since 2007, nearly 30 have been made into films.

In a new drive to reach younger au­di­ences in China, the NCPA has launched free on­line broad­cast­ing.

Since 2011, its on­line plat­form has livestreamed more than 100 clas­si­cal mu­sic con­certs, with each one re­ceiv­ing more than 1 mil­lion views on av­er­age.

Shi Yingy­ing, head of the NCPA’s on­line clas­si­cal mu­sic chan­nel, said: “When we launched the plat­form, it was hard to build co­op­er­a­tion with stream­ing ser­vices. Clas­si­cal mu­sic con­certs only catered to a mi­nor­ity taste. For in­ter­net users, who are mostly young peo­ple, this was not a ma­jor draw.”

On Nov 22 and 23, the Ber­liner Phil­har­moniker gave two sold-out per­for­mances at the NCPA un­der the ba­ton of Venezue­lan con­duc­tor Gus­tavo Du­damel, with a reper­toire in­clud­ing Gus­tav Mahler’s Sym­phony No 5 in C-sharp mi­nor and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sym­phony No 5 in D mi­nor, Op. 47.

In ad­di­tion to the au­di­ences in the con­cert hall, more than 1,500 peo­ple watched the two per­for­mances at three smaller venues in the NCPA, and even more watched them on­line.

Shi said, “We are lit­er­ally bring­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic into peo­ple’s homes, where we hope that we’ll be able to recre­ate the sen­sa­tion of friends gath­er­ing to cel­e­brate mu­sic to­gether.”

Star pi­anist Lang Lang per­formed with the Ber­liner Phil­har­moniker on Nov 23, when he played Mozart’s Pi­ano Con­certo No 24 in C mi­nor, K.

491. He said, “When I started to play pi­ano many chil­dren had al­ready started to learn it. There was a vi­brant mar­ket.

“The pi­ano is a bridge between East and West. It is a gate­way for Chi­nese to ap­proach the world. For most Chi­nese, clas­si­cal mu­sic is quite new. We don’t have the con­cept that it is from the old times, say 200 or 300 years ago. We have a fresh im­age of Mozart and Beethoven, and a deep re­spect for these com­posers.”

The 36-year-old, who was born in Shenyang, cap­i­tal of Liaon­ing prov­ince, stud­ied pi­ano from age 5, and was in­spired by watch­ing a film in the Tom and Jerry car­toon se­ries called The Cat Con­certo, which fea­tures Franz Liszt’s Hun­gar­ian

Rhap­sody No 2. He now plays to sold-out houses around the world and has be­come a role model for mil­lions of young Chi­nese who are learn­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic.

Af­ter two years’ prepara­tory work, Lang is poised to re­lease his lat­est al­bum early this year, aim­ing to make clas­si­cal mu­sic much more in­ter­est­ing and ac­ces­si­ble to a wider au­di­ence.

He has adapted some of the best­known folk songs from around the world, in­clud­ing those from China, Aus­tralia and Ja­pan. He has also recorded some of the most pop­u­lar works of Fred­eric Chopin, Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart and Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach.

“I would like to in­tro­duce clas­si­cal mu­sic to ev­ery­one in the world, be­cause it changed my life, and I be­lieve it can change oth­ers’. Play­ing or lis­ten­ing to these great pieces is like read­ing the world’s best nov­els. With the same appeal, they re­late emo­tions, in­spi­ra­tion and en­joy­ment,” Lang said.

Ma Xiao­jia, deputy prin­ci­pal of Lang Lang Mu­sic World, a train­ing school in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince, and direc­tor of the Lang Lang Shen­zhen Fu­tian In­ter­na­tional Pi­ano Fes­ti­val Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, said, “With the power to be a role model, and with sup­port from the gov­ern­ment, clas­si­cal mu­sic has been pro­moted greatly in China.

“We are meet­ing a deep need from young Chi­nese who are learn­ing mu­sic, and who have the same en­thu­si­asm for clas­si­cal mu­sic as they have for pop­u­lar movies and pop mu­sic. They per­form mostly for their own plea­sure.”

Nearly 300 Chi­nese from around the coun­try, ages from 4 to 15, are at­tend­ing Lang Lang Mu­sic World.

One of Lang’s teach­ers is pi­anist and con­duc­tor Daniel Baren­boim.

When Baren­boim con­ducted the Staatskapelle Ber­lin, the Ber­lin Opera’s res­i­dent or­ches­tra, in two con­certs at the NCPA last month that fea­tured a cy­cle of Jo­hannes Brahms’ sym­phonies, he asked for the con­cert hall house lights to be turned up be­fore giv­ing an encore.

Look­ing at the au­di­ence, he said: “I have never seen such a young crowd sit­ting in a clas­si­cal mu­sic con­cert. It’s a sur­prise.”

The boom­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic mar­ket has also thrown the spot­light on China’s mu­si­cians.

Chen Guangx­ian, direc­tor of the China Sym­phony De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, said the num­ber of sym­phony or­ches­tras in the coun­try has risen in re­cent years.

There were about 30 pro­fes­sional or­ches­tras four years ago, but by last year the fig­ure had risen to 82, pre­sent­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties not only for young Chi­nese mu­si­cians but also for those from around the world.

Chen is also gen­eral man­ager of the Suzhou Sym­phony Or­ches­tra in Jiangsu prov­ince, which cel­e­brated its sec­ond an­niver­sary on Nov 18. It has more than 70 mu­si­cians from some 20 coun­tries and re­gions, in­clud­ing China, Ja­pan, South Korea and the United States. Their av­er­age age is 30.

To change the way in which young peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence clas­si­cal mu­sic con­certs, sym­phony or­ches­tras are also try­ing to break with con­ven­tion by of­fer­ing easy-to-lis­ten pro­grams.

For ex­am­ple, Mu­sic in the Sum­mer Air, an an­nual fes­ti­val, stages about 20 indoor and out­door per­for­mances ev­ery sum­mer. It was launched in 2010 by con­duc­tor Yu Long, mu­sic direc­tor of the Shang­hai Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, and Swiss con­duc­tor Charles Du­toit, mu­sic direc­tor of the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra in the United King­dom.

Held over two weeks, about 30,000 peo­ple at­tend the fes­ti­val, which presents not only clas­si­cal con­certs but crossover per­for­mances between the genre and oth­ers, in­clud­ing rock and jazz.

Wang Xiaot­ing, direc­tor of artis­tic plan­ning with the Shang­hai Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, said one-third of the au­di­ences at­tend­ing Mu­sic in the Sum­mer Air con­certs are tra­di­tional clas­si­cal mu­sic lovers, and one-third are new­com­ers, es­pe­cially young peo­ple. The re­main­der are col­lege stu­dents, as the fes­ti­val teams up with Shang­hai univer­si­ties to of­fer low-price tick­ets and re­cruit vol­un­teers.

“Young peo­ple are now lis­ten­ing to and are open to var­i­ous mu­si­cal gen­res on­line. With the spe­cial ar­range­ment of pro­grams, we want to at­tract peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ages and from all walks of life,” said Wang, 37.

The Shang­hai na­tive grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Ox­ford and Lon­don School of Eco­nomics with masters in lit­er­a­ture and po­lit­i­cal science.

Young peo­ple are now lis­ten­ing to and are open to var­i­ous mu­si­cal gen­res on­line. With the spe­cial ar­range­ment of pro­grams, we want to at­tract peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ages and from all walks of life.”

Wang Xiaot­ing, direc­tor of artis­tic plan­ning with the Shang­hai Sym­phony Or­ches­tra

JIANG DONG / CHINA DAILY

A pri­mary school choir in Bei­jing takes part in cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing the 11th an­niver­sary of the Na­tional Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts on Dec 22, when more than 50 pub­lic pro­grams were staged. The Bei­jing venue opened to au­di­ences for free on the day, a tra­di­tion since 2009.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Lang Lang per­forms with the Ber­liner Phil­har­moniker on Nov 23 at the Na­tional Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts.

JIANG DONG / CHINA DAILY

Zhang Zhengchen (cen­ter), a 21-year-old stu­dent con­duc­tor from the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic, and Wang Ning (left), direc­tor of the NCPA, greet an au­di­ence mem­ber at the cel­e­bra­tions.

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