Orchestra loves Chinese qi

Orchestra loves Chinese qi

Musicians from the US love performing for young Chinese audiences because they feel the energy right away and use it, writesArielConant

The booming, energetic laughter of Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin fills the brightly lit meeting room at the Venetian in Macau. Answering reporters' questions with the same boundless enthusiasm he brings to his conductorship, Nezet-Seguin chats excitedly about the orchestra's recent China residency.

"Something that is really specific to China is that it inspires us to remember the first reaction that the Western audiences used to have," he says. "There's an immediacy to the reaction that is extraordinary to us."

For Nezet-Seguin, who joined the orchestra in 2012, this difference in reaction comes from a difference in culture. Western classical music is familiar to Westerners, even if they don't like it. But for many mainlanders who attended one of the Philadelphia Orchestra's recent concerts, it might have been their first exposure to the genre.

The Philadelphia Orchestra's close relationship with China began in 1973 when it served as the United States' first cultural ambassador.

"There are several members still in the orchestra who were actually on the 1973 trip," reveals cellist Ni Hai-ye, who was born in Shanghai. "My father was actually at one of the performances in Shanghai, so I feel really proud" to be a member of that orchestra, she says.

Violinist Julia Li Yiying agreed. She began her violin studies in Beijing at the age of seven. It wasn't until she was a teenager, however, that she really fell in love with music. "No one really likes practising," she says, laughing. "But when I didn't play, after a couple of days, I would miss it, so I would always come back."

"When people think about practising, it's really boring," Ni says. But once she realised that music was her passion, she never let go. "Now I feel like each year, every day, I'm beginning to love music even more."

Li also talked about the differences between Chinese and Western audiences: "It's a different type of energy. The Chinese audience is definitely a younger crowd."

Nezet-Seguin adds: "It's a very young audience here. Very young. Very, very, very young. But they give the orchestra their energy."

It was refreshing, he said, to see so many in the younger generation taking an interest in classical music. "I loved seeing their responses to hearing it for the first time."

Assistant conductor-designate Lio Kuok-man was equally excited at the first concert he attended as a boy in Macau.

"I was four years old," he recalled, smiling. As soon as the conductor walked out, Lio remembers tugging on his mother's arm, and exclaiming: "That is so cool! I want to be a conductor!"

"At home, I would pick up chopsticks and wave my arms around," Lio says.

But chances to hear classical music were more limited 25 years ago, let alone to play instruments. Since then, music education has changed dramatically all across the mainland. Now school bands and orchestras are common, and concerts and events are on offer nearly every night.

Attending such events is crucial to music education, says Ni. Instead of relying on what is told by a teacher, she encourages anyone who has an interest in music to experience it for themselves.

"Going to a concert and listening to music can be so inspiring," she says. "It makes a very deep impression."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Orchestra loves Chinese qi

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