Springing to life

By Eric Mendel (thatsbj.com)
Updated: 2008-05-05 08:59

In a mere four months, The Egg has put itself together. Early on, some considered it a huge waste; now, there's already a strong argument to call it Beijing's first real center of gravity for concert goers. That's still not enough to placate some of the critics of monolithic culture, but even though The Egg holds tightly to a maximalist, big-is-best philosophy, it appears someone on the inside may be trying to remove the yoke of tradition, and focus on deeper, more significant programming. Consider the orchestral highlights of this month:

Orchestral maneuvers in The Egg (April 29-June 14)

“The Spring of Chinese Orchestras” demands top billing, thanks to sheer numbers if not big names. Each of China’s provinces and municipalities is sending one orchestra to participate in a monstrously large festival. Whoever thought this up was probably inspired by the Olympic torch relay, but it was a mark of genius to decide to do this in one place rather than requiring orchestra buffs to run from one city to the next. Demonstrating the advantage of the NCPA’s clout and funding base, it’s impossible to imagine this ambitious plan having happened in the past. We’ll see over 20 orchestras over as many consecutive nights of programs, with around 2,000 musicians participating.

While the quality will range from the bu cuo to the painfully atrocious, consider the experience as a classical armchair tour through the Chinese countryside: pleasant surprises everywhere, and at times questionable cleanliness, which together leaves you stronger for the experience. Pick a couple of provinces at random –say, Heilongjiang and Ningxia –to compare and contrast.

(Here’s an idea: if enough people send text messages to the NCPA suggesting a favorite all-star ensemble, maybe we’ll come up with the next big thing from the mainland! Cellos from Inner Mongolia? The low brass of Tibet? Fujian’s pungent double reeds?)

Another reason to go: Most concerts will feature at least one Chinese-composed work –more of that sort in one place than has probably ever been heard, with perhaps a surprise gem or two.

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