Resonating across the world

Updated: 2015-07-22 07:55

By Chen Jie(China Daily)

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A group of young American musicians is touring China. For many, it's a homecoming. Chen Jie reports.

Wang Yibiao seems jetlagged in the Grand Hyatt Beijing's lobby at 6 pm, after his 14-hour flight from New York. But the 17-year-old flutist says he's thrilled to tour with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America because it's his first time to perform in his homeland.

His sentiment is shared by NYO-USA percussionist Karen Dai, who also looks forward to playing for relatives in her motherland. The 17-year-old moved to the United States when she was 10 months old.

The NYO-USA is a training program founded in 2013 by Carnegie Hall through its educational arm, the Weill Music Institute.

This summer, 114 music students aged 16 to 19 from 37 US states joined two weeks of intensive preparations at State University of New York's Purchase College for a concert at Carnegie Hall on July 11. The next day, they headed to China to start a seven-concert tour in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xi'an, Shenzhen (July 23), Guangzhou (July 24) and Hong Kong on July 26.

The NYO-USA in Beijing also signed a cooperation memorandum with the National Center for the Performing Arts. The institutions will develop educational programs, and the NCPA's orchestra will perform at Carnegie Hall in 2017.

It's the first time for many students to fly, says Carnegie Hall's public relations director Synneve Carlino.

"It's a bright, brilliant and interesting initiative of Carnegie Hall," says Charles Dutoit, who conducts the orchestra's Carnegie Hall concert and China tour.

"This education program is really a top thing. They have great coaches. For example, the violin coach is Robert Chen, the concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, and he is from China. Those coaches and tutors prepared the orchestra well."

The maestro also conducts the Verbier Festival Orchestra, composed of young professionals five to 10 years older than these students.

The NYO-USA's third edition includes 25 students with Chinese ancestry.

"They not only perform musically at the highest level but also serve as musical ambassadors for their country," Carnegie Hall's executive and artistic director Clive Gillinson says.

"The orchestra's debut tour to China is undoubtedly an opportunity for musical and cultural discovery."

Wang, who's from Beijing, started to play keyboard at 4 and the flute at 7.

After moving to the United States in 2007, he enrolled in Juilliard's college-prep program. He'll go to Columbia University in the fall.

"I spend one hour practicing every day - half an hour physically playing and the other half thinking of music," Wang says.

"Though I return to Beijing almost once a year, I'm still impressed by its change every time. The city develops so fast. I also look forward to visiting Shanghai and Hong Kong, which still feel foreign to me."

Gordan Ma has joined the NYO twice.

The 18-year-old violinist says the audition is as tough as a university application. He had to write essays and pass rounds of online auditions.

His mother is from Beijing. His father comes from Anhui province.

He's proud to be this year's only NYO-USA member from North Carolina.

His favorite subjects are math and physics, and he'll study economics at Harvard this fall.

The NYO-USA's China tour also features Chinese pianist Li Yundi playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 5 Emperor. Composer Tan Dun was commissioned to score Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds.

Passacaglia is an early-17th-century Spanish genre. Tan uses the old form but incorporates sounds from nature, such as the birds and wind.

Tan recorded bird's songs played on six traditional Chinese instruments. They were the sheng (a free-reed instrument with vertical pipes), pipa (a four-stringed plucked instrument), suona (a double-reed horn), erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument), dizi (a Chinese flute) and guzheng (a Chinese plucked zither). He uploaded them on social media, including Twitter and WeChat.

He did so last summer in Long Li Ge Long: A Symphonic Poem with Mobiles and Audience Chant. It was a birthday gift for his longtime friend Yu Long, the orchestra's artistic director. The audience used their cell phones to create music literally in concert with the orchestra.

During other passages the players sang, hummed, whistled and snapped their fingers.

Tan says that when Carnegie Hall commissioned him to create a piece for the NYO's China tour, he wondered: What can bring the two countries' youth together? What they can explore together?

"I believe it's the wonder of nature and a dream of the future," the composer says.

"I'm always interested in nature's sounds. As early as music was invented, human beings tried to speak to nature with music. For example, many ancient Chinese instruments imitate wind, water or birds."

Dai says: "It's fun to play this piece. At a time when cell phones are the bane of concert life, Mr Tan turns these devices into essential instruments."

She says rehearsals with Tan are interesting.

"He's as energetic as us teenagers and has cool ideas. We talked a lot not only music but also about life - many things," she says.

Tan enjoyed working with the NYO-USA. Though they may not become professional musicians, they may become doctors, lawyers and scientists, he says.

"They're full of energy and passion."

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 Resonating across the world

Tan Dun conducts the National Youth Orchestra of the United States during a rehearsal in New York this month.Provided To China Daily

 Resonating across the world

Members of the NYO-USA use their cellphones to create music while performing Tan Dun's Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds.Jennifer Taylor / For China Daily

Resonating across the world

(China Daily USA 07/22/2015 page7)