Classic music in China

Last night we went to Lincoln Center for the Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Barnes & Noble at the corner at the corner of Broadway and 66th Street was gone. In place was Century 21. file 22953

The last time we heard this piece was in 2007. As it happened, it was Long Yu’s Philharmonic subscription debut: in a program featuring Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, by Maxim Vengerov. Shostakovich’s symphony requires a huge orchestra that filled the spacious stage to the brim. However it’s not my cup of tea, so my mind began to wander. I don’t read music notes nor play a music instrument but I love classic music. My interest developed when I lived with my aunt who worked for Central Philharmonic Orchestra (中央乐团) in Beijing.

At each of the music conservatories I visited in Beijing, I heard players with an extraordinary level of talent. They could all play the notes with astonishing dexterity, but they didn’t understand the music. They wanted to play the fast, flashy, loud, difficult compositions, display their technical virtuosity. They hadn’t had sufficient time or instruction in basic musical values that were part of the old European tradition, and they also thought that technique alone would get them the best jobs. I tried to show them that technical excellence was a necessary part of good music-making, but that it wasn’t everything; I talked to them about emphasizing the mind, about playing each note with the ear and the heart.

Isaac Stern wrote in 1979. I clearly remembered his visit to Beijing, his sardine packed rehearsals and sold out concerts. The first time I saw him, after meeting Seiji Ozawa, I found he looked a bit off … his limbs were short. But his warm personality won us over. Although Seiji Ozawa and Herbert von Karajan’s appearance were sleeker, their demeanor were drastically cooler and sleeker, especially von Karajan. Fast forward to twenty first century, which has brought Lang Lang (郎朗; 1982), Li Yundi, (李云迪; 1982) .. into our view. In 2004, New York Philharmonic hired Zhang Xian (张弦; 1973; since 2005) and Long Yu (余隆) just debuted, just to name a few. Is China improving fast, or the classical world needs new market? Maybe both.

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