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 Madison Symphony Orchestra presents a FREE Farmers’ Market Concert of music for organ and piano this Saturday morning. Plus, there is a FREE orchestra concert and viola concert at Capitol Lakes Retirement Center TONIGHT at 7.

June 15, 2015
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ALERT: A friend writes: TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, downtown off the Capitol Square, UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below with the Middleton Community Orchestra) will be conducting the Serenade No. 1 by Johannes Brahms (at bottom, you can hear the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Claudio Abbado, in a YouTube video) performed by many members of the Middleton Community Orchestra, and past and future soloists. On the second half of the program, violist Vicki Powell, who is just in Madison for the week, will perform solo works.

The Brahms sounds great. We are lucky to be joined by Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz; violinist Paran Amirinazari who will be Middleton Community Orchestra’s concertmaster in the fall; and violist Vicki Powell plus many other fine players.

THE CONCERT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Kyle Knox conducts MCO

By Jacob Stockinger

It could sound like a professional wrestling match: “This Saturday the Über Steinway meets the Colossal Klais!”

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) German (Hamburg) Steinway piano will meet the colossal Klais Overture Concert Organ (below) in a free concert featuring guest pianist Stephen Nielson and organist Samuel Hutchison.

Overture Concert Organ overview

The concert will take place during the Dane County Farmers’ Market (below) on this Saturday, June 20, at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.

No tickets or reservations are needed for this 45-minute concert.

dane county farmers' market

From familiar hymns to rousing patriotic medleys and stunning solos for piano and organ, this first and only Farmers’ Market organ concert of the summer promises to deliver thrills for all.

American pianist Stephen Nielson made his orchestral debut as a pianist at age 11. During a 30-year collaboration with his late colleague, Ovid Young, Nielson performed more than 3,500 concerts world-wide as part of the distinguished piano duo Nielson & Young.

His 2008 performance with Samuel Hutchison in Overture Hall garnered rave reviews from those in attendance. Nielson received his degree from Indiana University, where he also earned the Distinguished Performer and Phi Beta Kappa honors. Nielson was named a finalist in the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels and has performed throughout Europe and Asia.

Stephen Nielson

Samuel Hutchison has served as Curator and Principal Organist for Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Overture Concert Organ since 2001. An honors graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, Hutchison has presented many recitals in the U.S and in Europe in locations that include the Riverside Church, New York City; St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; and Notre Dame, St. Sulpice and St. Étienne-du-Mont, Paris. He also performed the complete works of J.S. Bach in a series of 11 weekly recitals for the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Sam Hutchison  close up

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Overture Center for the Arts present the Farmers’ Market Concert in partnership with the Wisconsin State Journal/Madison.com.

Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

To see the Overture Concert Organ series of concerts for 2015-16 or to subscribe at a 25% savings, visit: www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason15-16

 

 


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