The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the striking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

https://www.interlude.hk/front/culture-construction-chinas-new-concert-halls/

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

https://www.cliburn.org/2019-cliburn-junior-competitors/

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-future-of-classical-music-is-chinese/2019/03/22/2649e9dc-4cb5-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.7f149e0f8eb9

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot of chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The inaugural LunART Festival — celebrating women creators and performers — will take place this coming Thursday through Saturday

June 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The timing couldn’t be better or more relevant, given the rise of the #MeToo movement and the increased attention being paid to the role of women in the creative and performing arts.

So The Ear is pleased to post the following announcement about the inaugural LunART Festival, which will take place this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The announcement comes from festival co-directors flutist Iva Ugrcic (below top) and oboist Laura Medisky (below bottom). Both women are doctoral graduates from the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, and both are members of the Black Marigold woodwind quintet and have played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

The first-ever LunART Festival will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, from this Thursday through Saturday, June 28-30, with the mission to support, inspire, promote and celebrate women in the arts through pubic performances, exhibitions, workshops and interdisciplinary collaboration.

The festival — showcasing 40 international women artists — will provide accessible, high-quality, engaging concerts and events with diverse programming through various arts fields. All artistic creators represented at LunART (composers, visual artists, writers, speakers) will be women.

To showcase women in the arts and bring their work into the spotlight, this three-day event includes a variety of FREE and ticketed concerts, outreach events and educational programs.

The artistic goal is to share works of women artists, and ensure the progress women have made will continue to flourish and grow, overcoming issues of gender inequity in the Arts. LunART supports artistic development of all aspiring regional, national, and international artists, whether emerging or established in their fields.

“This festival will raise awareness of the position of women in the arts through engaging, accessible concerts and events,” says founder and executive director Ugrcic. “The LunART Festival offers diverse programs representing current and relevant women in the arts,and we are committed to expanding and strengthening community ties through public performances and exhibitions. As we establish the festival’s reach into our local community and beyond, we see tremendous potential for growth in future years, with opportunities to expand our vision to theater, dance, opera and the visual arts, creating an interdisciplinary festival dedicated to women in all the arts.”

Through LunART’s mission and vision, the greater Madison community, audiences, festival musicians, artists, and the global music community will be directly impacted by:

  •  Raising awareness of the position of women in the arts
  •  Empowering women artists and creating a sense of unity and community
  •  Establishing artistic relationships and opening doors for future collaborations
  •  Creating lines for global connections rooted in Madison
  •  Introducing underrepresented artists to Wisconsin audiences
  •  Reaching diverse audiences, and drawing from underserved populations
  •  Providing opportunity for local businesses to be involved in the arts, supporting an 
organization with a specific social cause. 
The inaugural festival includes three ticketed evening Gala concerts of contemporary classical music and two “Starry Night” late-night performances featuring a local woman hip-hop artist, singer-songwriter, and a rock band.

Also on the schedule is an outreach concert featuring emerging women composers, a lecture about the influence of women in the arts, and a panel discussion about collaboration in the arts.

The festival’s 2018 Artist-in-Residence is award-winning composer Jenni Brandon from Long Beach, California. Brandon’s instrumental and vocal works will be showcased at the Gala concerts, including one world premiere. (You can hear a sample of her work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To connect with women composers globally, the festival held a call for scores, from December to March, that was open to women composers of all ages and nationalities, and received scores from over 90 applicants from more than 20 countries.

  • LunART Festival has partnered with area art organizations including Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, First United Methodist Church, Madison Public Library, Capitol Lakes Retirement Center, and First Unitarian Society of Madison, as well as local businesses Robinia Courtyard, Bos Meadery, and Field Table. LunART is supported by Dane Arts and Madison Arts Commission, won second place at the 2018 UW Arts Business Competition, and is a finalist for the 2018 National Flute Association’s C.R.E.A.T.E. Project Competition.

For a complete schedule of the varied events, go to this website and click on Learn More:  https://www.lunartfestival.org/events

The main concluding event is the gala concert of “Women’s Voices” on Saturday, June 30, at 7 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $10 for students. They can be purchased in advance by going to the website for the concert, which is below.

The website also has the full list of performers and the full program – including works by Hildegard von Bingen, Fanny Mendelssohn and Amy Beach and many contemporary women composers.

Go to: https://www.lunartfestival.org/womens-voices


Classical music: The King’s Singers will mark 50 years when they perform Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed a cappella singing group The King’s Singers (below) will be marking its 50th anniversary when it performs the annual Fan Taylor Concert – named to honor the first director of the Wisconsin Union Theater – on this Saturday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall.

Tickets are $25-$45 general admission, $20 for youths and $10 for UW students. For more information, including the complete program, background, audio-video samples and how to purchase tickets, go to  https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/the-kings-singers/. You can also phone 608-265-ARTS (2787) or go in person. See locations and hours here.

Celebrating their Golden Anniversary this year, The King’s Singers are widely acclaimed for the quality of their singing and diverse repertoire, which includes over 200 commissioned works from the world’s leading composers.

The commissioned arrangements come from a breadth of musical genres: jazz standards to pop chart hits, medieval motets to Renaissance madrigals, and new scores by young composers.

The upcoming concert is part of their 50th anniversary world tour, and the program showcases their signature blend, purity of tone, and diversity of repertoire, with selections ranging from Renaissance polyphony to brand new commissions celebrating the 50th anniversary.

This love of diversity has always fuelled The King’s Singers’ commitment to creating new music. A panoply of commissioned works by many of the greatest composers of our times – including Luciano Berio, György Ligeti, John Rutter, Toru Takemitsu, Sir John Tavener and Eric Whitacre – sits alongside countless bespoke arrangements in the group’s extensive repertoire.

One of these is called “To Stand in This House” by Nico Muhly (below), which sets various texts by scholars who originated at King’s College, Cambridge, where The Kings Singers were founded.

The program, GOLD, charts a journey through the music that has defined The King’s Singers so far, from Renaissance polyphony to art song to, naturally, close harmony favorites.

The group also looks toward the future with several commissions for the 50th season from composers and arrangers with who they have ties, including, in addition to Nico Muhly’s work, “We Are” by composer/conductor Bob Chilcott, himself a former member of The King’s Singers; and “Quintessentially” by Joanna and Alexander L’Estrange (below), which humorously tells the story of The King’s Singers’ past 50 years.

The King’s Singers was founded in 1968 at King’s College in Cambridge, England. They continually wow audiences across the globe in over 125 concerts a year. The group has won two Grammy awards and was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame for its vocal artistry and excellence. (You hear a sample from the group’s new anniversary album, “Gold,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Madison concert is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.

This concert is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. WORT-FM 89.9 is the media sponsor.


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