For the fourth year running, the international Beethoven Festival in Bonn and Deutsche Welle have invited a youth orchestra to participate in the Orchestra Campus.
This year’s special young guests are from the Central Conservatory of Music Beijing, China, considered to be the best music school in the country.
But they were not the only Chinese attractions at the Beethoven Festival this year. The young musicians also debuted an original composition by one of the Central Conservatory’s professors, Qin Wenchen, under the direction of Hu Yong-yan. And Chinese shooting star pianist Li Yundi, who won the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 2000, was feature soloist.
You might say that there is an Asian wind blowing in Bonn this week. Kateri Jochum has more:
22 year old Qi Yue is one of the 80 members of the elite Beijing Conservatory Orchestra bringing fresh air from China to this year’s International Beethoven Festival. They are the fourth group to take part in the Orchestra Campus, following previous years’ groups from Kiev, Istanbul and Tiflis. With their opening concert on September 23rd, the Beijing Conservatory Orchestra debuted the modern composition “Pilgrimage in May” by composer Qin Wenchen, under the direction of conductor Hu Yong-Yan.
Born in 1966 in Inner Mongolia, Qin Wenchen grew up playing traditional instruments, far from Western classical culture. Today, he is a teacher at the Central Conservatory of Music Beijing and is considered to be one of China’s most important composers. He says that “Pilgrimage in May” is a very religious work, combining Tibetan and Mongolian music with Western composition:
Qin Wenchen: “I had different inspirations. The landscape was important for me in this piece. For example the clouds in Inner Mongolia or in Tibet are very special, and when the sun comes through the clouds it is very powerful. Or the Buddist prayers that are constantly spoken, even in the middle of the night. It is very quiet, but constant.”
For the 16 to 22 year old musicians trained on Western classics, Qin’s modern piece took some getting used to.
“Pilgrimage in May” weaves in the rhythm of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. One of China’s most important conductors, Hu Yong-Yan, says that the piece was a challenge for him as well:
“This piece is very special, of course, because it is inspired by a combination of elements of Western music and Eastern music. So we needed to put more effort to approach it.”
The Beijing Conservatory Orchestra also paid homage to Beethoven with a performance of his Symphony Number 4 in B Major. For Wang Cizhao, Head of the Beijing conservatory, this demonstrates the importance of Beethoven, even has in China:
“In China, every child from kindergarten through college, learns about Ludwig van Beethoven. For us, he is like a saint.”
The young musicians in the Beijing Conservatory Orchestra share their director’s reverence for the German master. Coming to Bonn was like a pilgrimage of a more secular sort for young viola player like Qi Yua:
“If you want to learn Beijing Opera, go definitely should go Beijing. So that’s the reason. If you want to learn what is Beethoven’s music, and why Beethoven writes this kind of music, and why Beethoven’s music is like this, you have to go to Bonn.”
There is an ever-growing audience for Western classical music in China, as well Yua says, even among young people. The musicians got to meet one example of this popularity at the first rehearsal. Li Yundi, winner of the Warsaw Chopin Prize 2000, is considered to be a classical pop star in China.
Li was featured solo pianist on Liszts’ Piano Concerto Number 1 in E-Flat, the second piece in the program.
With so much talent, it is no wonder that cultural investments are increasing in China: A new National Grand Theater is under construction in Beijing with a concert hall for more than 2000 listeners, and opera and theatre houses. There is also an Asian Orchestra Academy in the planning, which will unite young musicians from the entire Asia-Pacific realm. Conductor Hu Yong-yan has been appointed director of the future Academy.
During their stay in Germany, the conservatory musicians also performed at the Philharmonic Hall in Essen and took part in a workshop with German conductor Peter Gülke. They stayed with German host families, toured Bonn’s surrounding area, and experienced German culture first hand. Composer Qin Wenchen, who studied in Essen at the Folkwang School, says that this European experience is essential for Asian students:
“They can study technique, but it is important for them to experience the culture for them to really develop their artistry. It’s also important that they experience Western music in Europe, and find out how classical music is understood by Western audiences today.”
In Bonn, the young musicians gained this experience, performing for Western audiences and attending concerts by European orchestras. Bonn in return was thrilled with the young musicians. The Beethoven Hall on the shores of the Rhine was sold out and the waves of applause demanded two encores. And with the composition “Pilgrimage in May”, the Chinese musicians brought spring winds with Eastern traditions to this fall’s Beethoven Festival.