The dark side of China’s classical boom

Have you heard of a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Rome? How about a German Radio Orchestra, to be differentiated from the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern. And which orchestra on earth will the American Maestro Jed Gaylin conduct in China, the Philadelphia Festival Orchestra or the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra?

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This is just a glimpse of a whole canon of visiting orchestras touring in China during the New Year’s occasion from mid December 2016 to early January 2017.

China’s classical music boom was talked a lot by the rest of the world. The growing interest in music and the astronomical number of students practising music have helped create one of the largest economy of music business in Asia.

But it also served as a nest for ad hoc orchestras. Every December, venues are flooded by a pool of orchestras with misleading names and ambiguous description. Those concerts are often presented by various agencies who booked the venue in great advance to compete against local orchestras. Chinese audience still prefer orchestras with a foreign name and musicians with blue eyes when it comes to a New Year’s concert. Things like this has been around for at least a decade.

On top of that are orchestras named after Vienna, Wiener, Johann Strauss and waltz. There are at least six Johann Strauss or Vienna bands touring in China. Some of them are just pick-up bands specially formed for their China gig, some may have never performed in Vienna. Each band is competing against another, claiming to be the legitimate ensemble descending from the Strauss dynasty.

Although China imposes strict regulations and censorship upon visiting artists, the system is only designed to filter politically sensative content, not ad hoc bands.  Performance permission is granted when a visiting artist has obtained a Chinese visa, supporting documents from a local promoter and, in terms of an ensemble, a band registration or certificate.

Following are some of the bands about to emerge in China in 2017.

  • German Radio Orchestra conducted by Walter Hilger
  • ENO Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicolas Krauze
  • Philharmonischen Filmorchesters Berlin conducted by Silber Christiane
  • Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Rome conducted by Gian Luigi Zampieri
  • Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jed Gaylin
  • Austrian Mahler Philharmonic Orchestra

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One Response to The dark side of China’s classical boom

  1. Dear mr. Tang, thanks for this post.
    I reached it through the blog of Normal Lebrecht.
    The face of the conductor in this pic: http://www.gramophone.com.cn/?attachment_id=3174 is mine but someone else is conducting that fake-orchestra.
    I was contacted to conduct in China in this period but I refused because already busy in Europe.
    I never signed any contract or agreement.
    At the moment I am travelling between Romania and Italyas well as I’ve never been in China in my life.
    I wonder “who” is conducting with my face and in particular who (and why) used my image for posters.

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