Classical Music Education and Performance Unites Chinese and American Audiences

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by Zhonghe Zhu
A representative of the Xi’an Concert Hall greets Maestro Charles Dutoit at NYO-USA’s performance in Xi’an. Image: NYO-USA.

Audiences in Shanghai can now listen to classical music concerts from New York City live over the radio. WFMT Radio Network in Chicago recently launched "New York Sounds" on Shanghai Classical 94.7 FM.  The program is broadcast from 7-9pm every Friday, featuring live performances from Carnegie Hall, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the New York Philharmonic. Shanghai Classical 94.7 FM is the sole full-time classical music radio station in China, reaching approximately 1.5 million listeners, while the Chicago-based WFMT Radio Network, as one of the largest producers and distributors of classical music, provides programs that reach more than six million listeners per week in the United States and abroad.

There is a growing appetite for classical music in China, and collaborations with institutions in the US are common. There are estimated 40 million Children in China learning to play the piano and many students have come to the United States to study classic music. Lang Lang, a 33-year-old Chinese pianist who was heralded by the New York Times as the “hottest artist on the classical music planet”, attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to study piano when he was fifteen. Tan Dun, the composer for the opera The First Emperor, got his PhD from Columbia University and now resides in New York.

Performances from American music groups are warmly welcomed in China. The New York Philharmonic partnered with the Shanghai Orchestra Academy and performed four concerts, including two all-American concerts, in Shanghai this past summer. This marked the beginning of a series of four annual performance residencies in Shanghai. The New York Philharmonic will also bring master classes, coach chamber groups, and teach lessons to students in the Shanghai Orchestra Academy under this Residency Partnership. The National Youth Orchestra of USA is also contributing to the relationship. The group did a seven-city concert tour of China, which was designated as one of the cultural pillars of the US-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange by the US State Department and the Chinese government.

Classical music has been a part of US-China relations since the normalization of ties in 1979. Shortly after the United States and China resumed diplomatic relations, Isaac Stern, an American violinist, visited China for a series of concerts and master classes. Some of the students who attended Stern’s class more than three decades ago later came to the United States and became international recording and performing artist. Many became music professors in China.  Those early exchanges set the stage for an important cultural relationship that clearly continues to this day.

Zhonghe Zhu is a recent graduate of George Washington University and is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.