There might have been an explosion of interest in Western classical music in China over the past 20 years, but, so far, it's been for a very limited repertoire of Great Works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The 13th annual Beijing Music Festival, curated by broad-thinking Chinese conductor Long Yu, tried to change that.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, currently on its second visit to Asia, is among a gang of high-powered missionaries who were invited to introduce audiences there to Western music from the 17th and 18th centuries.
As an article in yesterday's New York Times points out, there is currently no Western period-instrument orchestra in China, and next to no period-instrument training in the country's conservatories and music schools.
The article follows Christopher Hogwood, rehearsing Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto. It also talks about how Tafelmusik, pictured above, presented its fantastic Galileo Project multimedia show in Beijing last weekend. (The show was translated into Mandarin but the official programme -- identical to what was presented in Toronto last season -- makes no mention of the Chinese music that Ian Johnson mentions in the Times article.)
Like many musicians and listeners in the West, some of the young Chinese musicians have been pleasantly surprised by period-performance practice. As the article states:
“I feel that Baroque is more flowing, more natural,” said Xie Haoming, a 20-year-old violinist who played lead on one of Vivaldi’s violin concertos that Mr. Hogwood critiqued. “It’s like Chinese tea — a more delicate flavor.”
The festival included a production of Handel's opera Semele, which was censored by local authorities, who had traveled to the production's premiere in Belgium last year, and found some of the material to be objectionable. You can check out an article from the NY Times from earlier this week, for details.
Here is a long but interesting promotional video of Zhang Huan's production -- the first time a Baroque opera has been presented in China with a Chinese director. The video, prepared over the summer, highlights the cross-cultural pollination and development of talent in China: