Caijing: “Mozart Would Be Pleased” About Progress Made In China’s Classical Music Scene In The Past Few Years
Classical music aficionados may already be familiar with a handful of top Chinese musicians, from pianist Lang Lang and composer Tan Dun to the scores of musicians trained in traditional Chinese styles. However, on a broader scale the world remains generally in the dark about recent developments that have had a dramatic effect on the Chinese classical music scene. Recently, Caijing magazine looked into the rapidly developing Chinese classical music world, which has responded to globalization by quickly incorporating western styles with their own traditions, and has produced a number of world-class musicians within the last 30 years while revitalizing global classical music by providing new and vast audiences (as well as spectacular venues like the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing).
The year 2008 was a big one for classical music in China, as operas newly composed and freshly staged catered to the public taste for accessible entertainment. Famous classical music composers flung themselves into the task of creating music for the Beijing Olympics. Not surprisingly, they sometimes trespassed in the field of pop music.
As China attracts more and more worldwide attention, so too do its composers. Tan Dun’s opera The First Emperor had its global premiere at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2008, and his Tea had its first Chinese performance at Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA). But these operas were also conceptual successes, in the sense that Tan Dun used new-media techniques and bridged cultural differences between East and West in order to make the works broadly popular.
The year also marked the debut of the NCPA, and several of its shows are worth noting. Puccini’s Turandot, set in Beijing and incorporating traditional Chinese tunes, would have been the center’s highly appropriate first show, had it been completed on time. It played to enthusiastic crowds anyway, though the singing was uneven. Le Roi d’Ys from France and Aïda by the Cairo Opera House were both billed as prestigious productions from abroad, but singers and orchestra were far from satisfactory. Still, the extravagance and visual shock of these three operas seemed to please their first-generation audiences as well as the NCPA’s managers, who were eager to show off their new home.
Growing popularity is not an end in itself, of course. As the article points out, Chinese audiences are still growing accustomed to both the productions themselves along with norms of audience conduct and decorum, which take ages to become second nature. However, the speed at which these world-class venues have been built and attracted top talent gives me reason to be optimistic that classical music in China can further reach the country’s huge population while home-grown composers increasingly take a world stage. Because if there is one thing that internationalization and globalization has taught me, it’s that there can never be too much accessible variety in the world.