A night out at the Shanghai Symphony: families in casual dress, no tuxedos

SHANGHAI, China — I enjoy classical music, along with other genres, and our region has much to offer for small towns, thanks to Music in the Mountains, InConcert Sierra, the Auburn Symphony, and Mondavi Center.

Whenever we travel I like to attend a concert: Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center in New York City; or Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In London, I recently saw  Brian Tyler and London’s Philharmonia; Vivaldi in Venice; and in Japan, it was Emanuel Ax and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. It’s entertaining but also a window into the local arts and culture scene. The concert halls are often stunning too.

Shanghai was no exception, and the concierge at Twelve at Hangshan hotel, named Stockton, whom I got to know in our email exchanges, helped me secure a ticket to the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, one of Asia’s most celebrated orchestras.

Last night, I had a splendid seat — fifth-row, aisle (A区5排21座580元) — to see accomplished Japanese composer Yoshikazu Fukumura conducting the music of 2018 Grammy-nominated Chinese composer Zhou Tian and  Tchaikovsky. It was a near sell out and offered an insight into the arts and culture scene in China, once home to the brutal Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao.

Zhou Tian exemplifies the worldwide influence of China’s musical talent. This talent also is integrated with the west (no “trade war” here). “Born in 1981, Zhou came of age in a new China marked by economic reforms, and was in the United States by his 20th birthday,” as his bio points out.

When I was dropped off in front of Shanghai Symphony Hall, some locals were hawking tickets to the concert, as if it were a Cal-Stanford football game. They were holding the tickets and shouting out a price — often aggressively. I held my own ticket up to show them I had one.

The loud ticket hawkers were in stark contrast to the setting: A world-class symphony hall in a leafy neighborhood. Built in 2014, it is a 1,200 seat main concert hall, with state-of-the-art acoustics and lighting. Beautiful timber panels surround the walls and ceilings, and the seats are comfortable.

The performance was excellent. Maestro Fukumura, dressed in a natty dark suit, conducted with vigor and emotion, often wiping his brow with a handkerchief. The Orchestra demonstrated a wide range of skills (including a wonderful demonstration of “piccacito” during Tchaikovsky #4).

Classical music is booming in China

The crowd was almost exclusively Chinese, except for a few expats and tourists like me, and it was not the tuxedo and evening gown crowd. The audience was filled with parents and their children, students and young professionals all dressed casually (AKA my kind of crowd).

As it turns out, classical music — while stagnant in some other places — is booming in China. Children in China often are brought by their parents to watch an orchestral performance, musical reviewers have noted, and I saw this firsthand.

It was an enthusiastic, not staid, crowd. Before the show, their smartphones were clicking “selfies” — until one of the ushers walked up and down the aisle carrying a sign that said “no cameras” before the performance began.

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra is leading the renaissance in classical music. Its conductor is Long Yu, one of China’s most high-profile conductors. This summer the orchestra signed a contract with Deutsche Grammophon to produce records for worldwide distribution. It is a leading classical music record label, dating back to 1898.

“The recordings will help draw global attention to the outstanding musicianship of Long Yu and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and foster the already significant profile of Deutsche Grammophon in China,” according to a press release. The first album is due for release next year, marking the orchestra’s 140th anniversary.

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1879, which was the earliest Chinese symphony. Originally, it was known as the Shanghai Public Band.

China’s classical music boom is being felt in Beijing too. This fall, the Beijing’s Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City, hosted an epic classical music gala — the first since 1998. It included an international cast of musicians, anchored by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Long Yu.

Here’s a video of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra:

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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