Tuesday, April 03, 2007

While Classical WETA-FM, In Nation's Capital, Buries Head In Sandy European/ Russian Past, China Welcomes Bright New World Of Living Classical Music

"Yu Zhenyang, a self-assured 15-year-old violinist with a picture of Jascha Heifetz in his bedroom, glided through the Mendelssohn Concerto from memory. His teacher bounded across the room, flailing his arms, swooning to demonstrate pathos and urging Zhenyang to play with more passion.

Yu Zhenyang, a 15-year-old violinist studying at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, during a lesson with his teacher, Lin Yaoji.
“You are the lead,” said the teacher, Lin Yaoji. “Be bolder. Stretch the distance between the notes, and then close the distance. I don’t want symmetry. Surprise me.”

Zhenyang is one of the brightest young stars at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, which has in recent years become part of China’s huge export machine churning out musical virtuosos.

With the same energy, drive and sheer population weight that has made it an economic power, China has become a considerable force in Western classical music. Conservatories are bulging. Provincial cities demand orchestras and concert halls. Pianos and violins made in China fill shipping containers leaving its ports.

The Chinese enthusiasm suggests the potential for a growing market for recorded music and live performances just as an aging fan base and declining record sales worry many professionals in Europe and the United States. Sales for a top-selling classical recording in the West number merely in the thousands instead of the tens of thousands 25 years ago.

More profoundly, classical music executives say that the art form is being increasingly marginalized in a sea of popular culture and new media. Fewer young American listeners find their way to classical music, largely because of the lack of the music education that was widespread in public schools two generations ago. As a result many orchestras and opera houses struggle to fill halls." ...

Joseph Kahn and Daniel J. Wakin "Classical Music Looks Toward China With Hope" New York Times April 3, 2007



Led by Nation's Capital, America increasingly leaves Western classical music to Greater Europe, Russia, China, Japan, and India as it promotes America's popular musics and Jazz as America's greatest, and only, contributions to world classical music culture.

American classical music does not normally feature on the playlist of the new Classical WETA-FM, in the Nation's Capital. The Kennedy Center, this Spring, promotes Jazz as America's sole contribution to world classical music.

Russian Imperial Conservatory of Music, Saint Petersburg, ca. 1900

"This huge building lies near the Mariinski Theater. Russian in 1900 was hugely proud of it's accomplishment in music, and the magnificent building of the Conservatory reflected the nation's pride in it's brilliant musicians and composers. The St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music was home to many of the world's most famous composers - such as Tchaikovsky, Mussorsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Glazanov, Rachmaninov - the names of these musical giants are legendary. In 1900 the Conservatory was still basking in the glow of the "Silver Age" of Russian culture which bloomed during the reigns of Alexander III and his son Nicholas II. The Silver Age was the culmination of years of development in Russian music.

Suzanne Massie, in her landmark book, "Land of the Firebird" comments on the origins of Russian music:

"Today, the strains of Russian music are so familiar and beloved. a part of the world's musical heritage that it is hard for us to imagine a time without their sound. Yet during the century and a half of Westernization - from the end of the 17th century to the middle of the 19th-Russia's national music had almost disappeared from view.

The Russians are a profoundly musical people. Their magnificent liturgical music has completely different roots from that of the West. Like the icon, its form first came to them from Byzantium and Greece, but once on Russian soil it was quickly nourished and changed by the folk melodies that filled the life of the people. From the 11th century to the 13th century, in the days of Kiev, church songbooks were carefully compiled. In the 16th century, a golden age of music in Russia, hundreds and perhaps thousands of these songbooks were carefully copied and kept, written in strange neume notations which date back to early Christian days. Sadly, much of the heritage of past masters is still obscured because of this complicated and still largely undecipherable musical alphabet. Western musical notation was introduced to Russia in the late 17th century, and with it Russian music became strongly influenced by musical ideas brought in by Poles and Ukrainians and later by the many Italian singers who came to sing at the court.

But the Russian earth was fertile, and the Russian musical heritage remained alive, flowing like a spring of clear water under the earth. From the beginning of the 19th century there was a widespread cult of music and musical pastimes, especially singing. Music was present everywhere: in the izbas of the peasants, the mansions of landowners, the roadside inns; in villages, towns and ,cities. In the smartest restaurants there were orchestras of stringed instruments; in simpler traktirs, or taverns, barrel organs or bands and later Gramophones. Military bands played in the parks. There were the wandering gypsies, which all Russians loved. Church choirs were highly valued; even private institutions such as banks had choirs trained to sing in church, and the competition between them was lively. Certain churches became famous for the fine bass voices of their deacons. Some talented deacons were given a complete musical education and invited to sing both secular and ecclesiastical music in private homes."

Photo and text credit: (c) Bob Atchison A Photographic Travelogue of the Capital of Imperial Russia in 1900. 2007. All rights reserved. With thanks.


Image of Kyiv, Ukraine's Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music, rebuilt in the 1950s after the earlier Conservatory was destroyed by the Nazi Germans in World War II (the Great Patriotic War).


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