New York Philharmonic Signs Partnership With Shanghai Orchestra

Email a Friend

China's rising voice in classical music may soon come with a New York accent.

In what appears to be a pioneering venture for both parties, the New York Philharmonic has signed an agreement with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to collaborate on a new orchestral training institute in Shanghai, as well as a series of touring exchanges and joint commissioning of new works.

The training institute, set to launch in 2013 around the opening of a new concert hall for the Shanghai Symphony, will provide a graduate-level music instruction for 20 to 30 students. Every two to three months, groups of New York Philharmonic musicians and staff will travel to Shanghai where they will provide master classes and other intensive sessions.

"The idea is to bridge the gap in training," said Anastasia Boudanoque, a manager at Columbia Artists Management, which represents the Shanghai Symphony's touring activities. "The Chinese system is modeled on the Russian system, which doesn’t really train people to be an orchestral musician. You’re groomed to be a soloist. But there’s no actual training to create orchestral players."

Musicians in the program, which will be run out of the new concert hall, will also study with -- and occasionally perform alongside -- members of the Shanghai Symphony. Organizers say the program was partly inspired by a training academy run by the Berlin Philharmonic. Shanghai Symphony music director Yu Long studied at the conservatory in Berlin in the late 1980s.

The education partnership will be part of a larger exchange between New York and Shanghai that will see touring as well as co-commissions. The latter have already begun to take shape with One Sweet Morning, a song cycle by John Corigliano that gets its premiere in New York on September 30 before traveling to Shanghai on May 26. Officials hinted that future commissions will bring new Chinese works to New York.

The partnership was announced at a signing ceremony in Shanghai on August 7 and reported by China’s state news agencies. In attendance was New York Philharmonic chairman Gary Parr and president Zarin Mehta; Yu Long; Shanghai mayor Han Zheng and Jean-Jacques Cesbron, the president of Columbia Artist Management.

Many questions remain as to the scope, timing and financial implications of the collaboration. Boudanoque said that a planning meeting between the two orchestras is scheduled for January, at which point further details will be available.

A bulletin on the Shanghai government web site notes that the partnership gives the Shanghai Symphony "more opportunities to perform on the international stage and gain experiences to become a world-class orchestra." Certainly, in an increasingly competitive landscape among China's orchestras and conservatories, Western affiliations are seen as a way to burnish an organization's image. And many of the New York musicians have the necessary credentials, already active as teachers at elite colleges and conservatories.

The roots of the venture were planted last summer when the Shanghai and New York orchestras shared a concert program in Central Park, led by Yu Long and featuring the Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The concert, which was filmed for Chinese television, was part of a promotion for the World Expo in Shanghai. The visitors also helped to defray concert's $1 million production costs (the Philharmonic canceled its summer parks concerts this year).

The Philharmonic initiative comes on the heels of Lincoln Center's recent announcement that it will partner with a Chinese company to build a multimillion-dollar performing arts center in Tianjin, and as the Communist nation pushes to expand its global cultural influence and promote artistic exchanges. Chinese musicians have become a dominant force at music competitions and are increasingly found in the ranks of Western orchestras and opera companies.

The Shanghai Symphony was founded in 1896 and has operated through China’s periods of turmoil, including the arrival of Communist rule and the Cultural Revolution. Yu became its music director in 2009 and was given the task of revitalizing the orchestra, even as he already leads the China Philharmonic and the Guangzhou Symphony, plus music festivals in Beijing and Shanghai.

This summer, Shanghai has unveiled a large new arts district dominated by a 2,000-seat concert hall, designed primarily for musical theater, and an outdoor amphitheater.