Monday, June 06, 2005

Classical Music in Asia

I just read that Spoleto (U.S.A.) is programming a 2 ½ hour Peking opera The Kingdom of Desire, a free version of Macbeth performed by Taiwan's premiere theater company. This is like holding hands in a continuing east-west love affair. Peking opera in China mirrors classical music in America: not much general interest and it’s in a survival mode. Peking opera may be an ugly maiden, but western classical music in Asia is as popular as Eros.

It’s not news that many top performers today are Asian or that young Asian classical musicians are taking prizes and honors in American and other competitions. Most recently it was when the Van Cliburn Piano Competition entered its final round. Three Asian women reached the finals and eight of the 35 contestants hailed from the People's Republic. Rounding out the Far Eastern contingent were two South Koreans and another Korean native now a citizen of the United States. The competition was grueling and controversial and two of the three top awards went to female Asian pianists-Joyce Yang of South Korea, and Sa Chen of China.

American orchestras are particularly well-represented in string sections, and have been for some time. But, the explosion of Asian pianists is a newer phenomenon. Nelita True, professor of piano at Eastman, says between 70 percent and 80 percent of the school's piano students are Asians. “The piano departments of the major schools in the United States would close if it weren't for the Asian students," True says. At Juilliard, it's more than 50 percent, says Kaplinsky. At the University of Texas, professor Anton Nel figures the Asian contingent is nearly 40 percent. Joseph Banowetz, professor of piano at the University of North Texas, says two-thirds of his students are Asians. From this, it might be argued, there are fewer non-Asian students prepared to apply.

But, they aren’t all trained in the U.S. Dan Zhaoyi, in Shenszhen, China is a maestro with a knack for catapulting young students to the highest levels of international competitions. His students have chalked up an extraordinary number of prizes. At the 2000 Frederick Chopin competition in Warsaw, Poland, Dan had two students in the contest's final round The 18-year-old prodigy who won, Yundi Li , has gone on to play the world's great concert halls. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more elegant performance of Chopin's B-minor Sonata than Yundi Li's 2001 recording on the DG label. His other student is Sa Chen, who took the crystal last night in the 12th Van Cliburn Competition.

Chinese Conservatories are bursting at the seams. China has nine hyper-competitive music conservatories, with students often moving long distances to enroll. The Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, a city in southwest China, recently divided hundreds of practice rooms in half to cope with the needs of its 14,000 (!) students.

Young people crowd symphony concerts. Private music schools are flourishing, and urban parents jockey to hire the best tutors, seeing music as a path to status and educational achievement. 38 million Chinese children study the piano. It's estimated that 100,000 children in Beijing alone are studying piano. Millions more practice the violin and other orchestral instruments. The nation has about 4 million professional musicians, and new concert halls and opera houses are being constructed regularly. And we mustn’t believe it’s only China.

How come? Classical music is big in Asia. There is a tremendous amount of government support for music in all these countries," Kaplinsky says. "When I was in Japan last August, judging a nationwide competition, the final ceremony was attended by a former prime minister, the minister of culture, a tremendous number of dignitaries. When we have a major national competition in this country, I can't think of any dignitary from any government that would think to appear. It adds clout and excitement as far as the students are concerned, to know that what they're doing is important not just to their parents, but to everybody else." Japanese still talk about Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic when they visited there in 1977. Now, there are important conductors such as Hisayoshi Inoue, Scotland-based Takuo Yuasa and Kent Nagano; composers Karen Tanaka, Somei Satoh, Yoshihiro Kanno, Toru Takemitsu, and too many more to list and the names of Japanese pianists, singers, and other musicians would be lengthy.

In Viet Nam three Vietnamese pianists from the Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) Conservatory of Music were among the winners at the Bradshaw&Buono 2005 international piano competition held in New York on May 18-19. Nguyen The Cuong Quoc, 12 years old, Nguyen Doan Thu Thao, 13, Hoang Ngoc Thien Y, 15, and the other winners were invited to perform in Carnegie Hall. And this is the first time young Vietnamese contestants have competed in an international piano contest in the US.

In Hanoi, Viet Nam, maestro Tetsuji Honna conducted performances by the Viet Nam National Symphony Orchestra at Hanoi’s Opera House on April 15 and 16. The 2005 Toyota Concert featured works by George Gershwin, (An American in Paris), Leroy Anderson, and von Weber, and Hilary Hahn made her Vietnamese debut at the Hanoi Opera House on May 6 in the ninth annual Hennessy Concert.

In Korea, a country smaller than Kentucky, there are 125 arts high schools and colleges, 49 performance management companies, 27 recording and publishing houses, 18 full-time chamber ensembles, 10 opera companies, 31 full-time orchestras, and 55 music performance facilities.

Composers Na In-yeong, Park Cheong-seon, and Lee Young-jo, incorporate Korean folk melodies to elevate Korean music from its purely ethnic or regional appeal to an art form that can solicit global interest. Chung Kyung-wha, one of the world's premier violinists, her sister Chung Myung-wha, a cellist, and their youngest brother, Chung Myung-whun, formerly music director of the French National Bastille Opera, established the Chung Trio during the 1970s. They have performed with world-class orchestras in every continent and have produced numerous recordings. In 1997, violinist Ko Bong-in won top honors at the Young Tchaikovsky Competition while still a student in the Korean National University of the Arts Preparatory School.

Korean sopranos Jo Su-mi, Hong Hye-kyeong, Shin Yeong-ok and Kim Yeong-mi, have earned international fame and baritone Choe Hyeon-su won top honors at the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition. There are currently 31 orchestras in Seoul and other Korean cities. The orchestras have produced several talented conductors, including Chung Myung-whun, Lim Heon-jong and Chung Chi-yong.

Korean choral performances have also been internationally recognized. Korea won first prize at the World Chorus Competition in Vienna in 1997, and it hosted the World Choir Olympics in Busan in 2002. Yun Hak-won, Yu Pyeong-mu, Na Yeong-su and Park Chang-hun are among the nation's leading choral conductors. Prominent composers of choral music in Korea include Na In-yong, Park Jung-su, and Lee Young-jo. There are hundreds of amateur choirs across the country offering excellent performances.

Lately, the number of Korean students studying music in the U.S. has steadily increased, but Seoul National University, Yonsei University, Hanyang University and Ewha Womans University, each with its own college of music, have trained most of Korea's top musicians. In 1993, the School of Music at the Korean National University of the Arts was established by a presidential decree in order to enhance and promote musical training in Korea. The school incorporates a European conservatory style with an American university-type educational system with a faculty of well-known professors of music from the United States, Germany, Russia, and Hungary as well as many of Korea’s notable music teachers.

For the time being, the U.S. still has the money bags and Julliard, but it seems that classical music will increasingly become Euro-Asian. Chairman Mao, in a moment of candor, said something like, “After all, Europe is merely an extension of Asia.” Did he tactfully omit the U.S.? Or is it the other way around?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say, as a prospective music student planning to attend a music college [hopefully Juilliard], it was amazing to read this article. it was very informative. in Washington state where i am, the makeup of my youth symphony is probably a little less than half. I believe that if the United States was more progressive towards the arts, that we could get the number of minorities in classical music up, but as it is, youth culture now is focused on rap, and hip-hop, rather than the beautiful history of jazz, blues, rag-time, and my favorite, classical. i happen to be one of about 5-7 minorites in the entire youth symphony association, which is an atrocity. we should look at Asian society as an example.

Thank you so much for writing this!

9:52 AM  

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