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Drills, thrills for China youth orchestra

By Hong Xiao in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-07-28 12:02

Liao Shangwen put all his energy into the passionate last movement of Antonn Dvork's Symphony No. 9 From the New World.

Sweat was still brimming on the 19-year-old cellist's forehead after he put in a three-hour-long debut performance at Carnegie Hall in New York on Saturday as a member of the National Youth Orchestra of China (NYO-China).

Each summer, Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute brings together young musicians from across the US to form the NYO-USA, after weeks of training in residency and an international tour. That program was the inspiration for the Chinese orchestra's formation.

To provide China's finest young musicians access to the same superior training and performance opportunities, more than 100 Chinese musicians gathered at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania for two weeks this month to participate in a training program under the guidance of conductor Ludovic Morlot, artistic director Cai Jindong and a suite of world-class teaching artists.

Liao said that after intensive training under Morlot, a Grammy Award-winning principal conductor of the Seattle Symphony, he had gained a deeper understanding of orchestra performance.

"The concert is highly successful; I can tell from the audience's reaction," Liao told China Daily. "You see, the cooperation is pretty well today. Many people think Chinese musicians are more focused on performing skills instead of cooperation.

"Orchestra is an amplified ensemble, which requires musicians to decrease personal characteristics and to create a harmonious sound," Liao said.

Providing a platform for young Chinese musicians of all economic backgrounds, the NYO-China program - including housing, tuition and travel - was offered at no cost.

The orchestra's 105 members were selected through videotaped auditions from an applicant pool of more than 1,000 respondents between the ages of 14 and 21, according to Vincent Accettola, managing director of NYO-China.

For the first round, the videos were evaluated by anonymous judges (professional musicians from orchestras, including the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra).

The highest-ranking submissions were then reviewed by a selection committee composed of NYO-China's teaching artists and artistic director.

"I couldn't even sleep at night during the time of selection," said Hu Zhaohang, a French horn player for NYO-China.

"My parents and I had never imagined that I could get selected, because I'm too young, and there are too many talented musicians with higher performing skills compared to me," said Hu, 14, the orchestra's youngest member.

The 105-member orchestra constitutes a geographically diverse group. While many come from Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, 23 provincial-level subdivisions also are represented.

About a quarter of the members are presently studying overseas in Europe, Singapore or the US.

Besides attending rehearsals, master classes, seminars, workshops and mentorship sessions, the orchestra's members also had a chance to attend a cultural exchange with their American counterparts in the NYO-USA.

On July 16, the two orchestras rehearsed together at the State University of New York at Purchase, where the American orchestra was in residence.

"If you bring together the most brilliant young musicians, they will inspire each other, and everybody's standard goes up," Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall's executive and artistic director, told China Daily during the joint rehearsal.

"Through the international language of music, the NYO-China project offers Chinese and American young artists an opportunity to interact and make friends with each other. Such mutual understanding and friendship helps lay the foundation for a strong state-to-state relationship," said Zhang Qiyue, Chinese consul general in New York.

The debut concert repertoire also included Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and The Rhyme of Taigu by Zhou Long, a Chinese-American and Pulitzer Prize-winning Zhou Long.

Pianist Yuja Wang, who was honored as Musical America's 2017 Artist of the Year, played solo in the First Piano Concerto.

NYO-China's concert tour will take the ensemble to Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou from Wednesday through Saturday, giving the young musicians the chance to share what they have learned abroad musically in their home country.

"Actually, this is the first time that I have had a chance to closely interact with students from top music conservatories in China," said Liao, now a freshman at the Juilliard School in New York.

Liao, who was born in Xiamen in Fujian province and raised in Shenzhen, took up the cello in kindergarten.

"It indeed expanded my social circle and improved my understanding of China's music business," he said. "We will definitely keep in touch," he said of his fellow musicians. "And all I think about at this moment is how to play better in the following tour to China."

Drills, thrills for China youth orchestra

Drills, thrills for China youth orchestra

(China Daily USA 07/28/2017 page1)

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