First notes on orchestra's record tour
Updated: 2013-01-21 11:51
By Michael Barris and Yuhan Liu in New York (China Daily)
The China National Symphony Orchestra kicked off the most ambitious US tour in its 56-year history at the weekend, with a concert of classics by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and a work composed by its executive director, Guan Xia, in the Alabama city of Anniston.
The seven-week tour will take the orchestra's 100 plus musicians to 30 small and medium-sized cities such as Anniston, a commercial and industrial hub in northeastern Alabama, with a population of 24,000. On its last US visit, in 2006, CNSO performed in eight cities, playing major concert auditoriums such as Avery Fisher Hall in New York, and the symphony halls in Boston and Chicago.
By playing smaller communities such as Anniston, the CNSO can broaden its US outreach to suburban and more remote regions, where people would otherwise have to travel far to see major orchestras perform.
"Doing this US tour is very meaningful for Chinese symphony orchestras and culture to step further forward and gain more recognition from the world," CNSO Executive Director Guan said.
The tour will allow the orchestra to build on the success of recent years, he added, which have seen other orchestras and musicians adopt and perform some of its original music.
The CNSO's effort to increase its stature internationally comes at a challenging time for US orchestras. In the United States, most orchestras rely heavily on individual and business philanthropy, but in times of persistent economic weakness, sponsorships are difficult to obtain. Meanwhile, changing public tastes in China has made it harder for the CNSO and other Chinese orchestras to stir up interest among audiences at home.
"People seem to be more interested in pop music instead of orchestras," Guan said. "To deal with the difficulty, we are looking at two main approaches: to keep our strength and improve our quality. We need to know our strength and weakness, and we need to better ourselves to upgrade our influence inside China and across the world."
Against this backdrop, the CNSO's 2013 US tour will be the first to have a distinctly commercial flavor. New York's Columbia Artist Management and China Arts and Entertainment Group are collaborating producers for the visit. Since 1930, CAMI has managed the careers and touring activities of such classical luminaries as pianist Vladimir Horowitz, violinist Jascha Heifetz, conductor Leonard Bernstein and singer Mario Lanza. CAEG, administered by the Ministry of Culture, has a mandate to help transform Chinese cultural and art institutions into modern enterprises.
"While most orchestras need financial support from the government to do international tours, this time we adopted a new format," Guan said. "It's a commercial tour. CAMI will be providing all expenses for CNSO, such as providing food, accommodation and ticketing. But revenues from all performances will go to CAMI."
Guan said CAMI's interest as a well-known US artist management company indicates "there's a demand in the US market" for the music of Chinese symphony orchestras.
Financial objectives often clash with artistic ones in orchestras and other arts institutions, but Guan said that the program for the CNSO tour is designed to please the customer while satisfying artistic goals.
"We need to consider what the audiences from both the US and China like," he said. "The music we choose to perform needs to cater to different tastes. That's why you see a mix of both classics and contemporary Chinese compositions in the tour program."
The program for the tour's opening performance at the Anniston Performing Arts Center on Saturday included the first movement of Guan's work Requiem of the Earth, composed as a tribute to the residents of Sichuan province, who suffered a devastating earthquake in 2008. According to a CNSO release, the first movement "seizes audiences with its contemplative and grieving tone The profound and holy music sounds solemn, pure and vast".
In 2006, Tim Page, a Washington Post reviewer, called the CNSO a "solid, energetic and meticulously drilled ensemble". Bernard Holland of The New York Times declared that "this orchestra will only get better".
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