China, heir to Mozart?

China, heir to Mozart?
A boy competes in the piano category at the First Yibaihui International Mozart Music Master Class Competition. He is among more than 2,000 children and young adults from five cities around China to participate in the contest.

Western classical music may have its future in the East, Chen Nan reports.

Is China the future of Western classical music? In the eyes of Jiang Tao, a veteran figure in the development of China's pop music industry for nearly two decades, the answer is yes.

As the general manager of Chia Tai Music Group, one of the earliest music-production companies, which was founded in 1992 in Beijing, Jiang has switched his attention from the pop-dominated market to cultivating Chinese classical musicians during the past 10 years.

After more than a year of preparation, Jiang co-organised the First Yibaihui International Mozart Music Master Class Competition in Beijing recently. More than 2,000 children and young adults from five cities around China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang, competed in three categories: piano, violin and singing.

"Many Chinese music companies started with branding pop stars in the early 1990s. However, the needs of the consumers have changed and diversified over the past few years, and we have to pave new ways to win in the market," says Jiang.

In 1990, Jiang formed a rock band, called Bronze, along with Chinese songwriter Gao Xiaosong and folk singer Lao Lang. In 1993, he joined in Chia Tai Music Group and worked with music companies, such as A8, an online music store, during the 2000s when the Internet was booming in the country.

Last year, Jiang returned to Chia Tai Music Group and he embraced the classical-music market as one of the main goals for the company's future development. He believes that China's growing influence in the world is mirrored by its flourishing classical-music scene.

In 2014, Jiang's company worked with the China National Symphony Orchestra by launching a national tour of an original Chinese opera, Mulan Psalm, which was composed in 2004 by Guan Xiao, the president of the orchestra.

"I was impressed to see the warm feedback of the audiences. China has a loyal fan base for classical music, which guarantees the box office and a promising music market," Jiang says.

He also points out popular reality TV shows, such as I Am a Singer and Sing My Song, which largely use symphony orchestras and chamber music as the accompaniment, ushered more audiences into the world of classical music.

"The high viewing rate of those TV shows resulted from the high quality of the music. A balanced grouping of strings, woodwinds, guitar, bass, keyboard, and vocalists, the ensemble consists of classically trained and focused players, who create an appealing, emotional sound," says Jiang.

According to He Wanzhen, the co-organizer of the First Yibaihui International Mozart Music Master Class Competition, the attitude change of Chinese parents also means a bright and healthy future for China's classical music scene. She has been building long-term partnerships with Western conservatories during the past decade, such as Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music.

She says that in the past, Chinese parents asked their children to learn classical music instrument either for the sake of extra points when applying to school or dreaming of becoming a global phenomenon, like Lang Lang and Li Yundi. But now, they consider music as a way to improve their children's aesthetic appreciation ability and as a way of self-expression.

The winner of the First Yibaihui International Mozart Music Master Class Competition in the piano category is Bai Tingxi, a 7-year-old girl from Chengde, Hebei province. She will go to Mozarteum Salzburg, an established university in Salzburg, Austria, to take a two-week course in July this year.

According to her father, Bai Yunlong, his daughter started learning piano at 3 and practices for six hours a day.

"She has the talent and enjoys playing piano. When she practices, she doesn't just play the classical works but also composes in her way. We have never asked her to take a piano-grading test because it will make the process of learning piano boring," says the 32-year-old father.

"During my career, the way people think about serious music has completely changed," says Tao Liming, a veteran classical music teacher of more than 30 years and one of the judges of the competition.

As the dean of the music education department of China Conservatory, she says that when she started learning piano and violin, there was a clear division between classical music and other styles of music, like pop and rock. But now with glittering new music venues being constructed around the country, enthusiastic audiences and a booming market, the lines between different music genres seem to be blurring.

"Classical music is not so much a high-end Western import for us now - it is more like way to communicate," she says. "Many pop and rock musicians have classical-music training backgrounds, which inspire them to release their own imagination and creativity. From children, who learn classical music instruments, to adults, who go to classical music recitals, they get enlightened."

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