SHOWBIZ> Theater & Arts
Best of the West comes to the capital
By Chen Jie (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-15 10:06

Western classical music fans around the world are bound to envy Beijing when 76-year-old Claudio Abbado picks up the baton to reprise this summer's Lucerne Festival at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA).

Music that sounds as its creators imagined it; musicians who play with rapture and commitment; concert-goers who take leisurely plunges into world of sound, far removed from the bustle of everyday life - the Lucerne Festival held every year at the idyllic Lake Lucerne in Switzerland makes it all possible and has been doing so for more than 70 years.

And now, from Sept 20 to 25, all this magic will occur in Beijing.

Like at Lucerne, Abbado will conduct the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which he and its artistic director Michael Haefliger founded in 2003, to open the concert in Beijing. Ever since its debut, the unique ensemble has given first-class performances that have excited audiences and critics in Lucerne and abroad.

Best of the West comes to the capital

The programs in Beijing are the same as those in Lucerne: Mahler's First and Fourth Symphony and Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, featuring young Chinese pianist Wang Yuja, with the soprano Rachel Harnisch delighting the audience in Mahler's Fourth and the Mozart arias.

There is a great air of expectation about the upcoming concert as the conductor never returned to this city after his pioneering trip with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1973. It was the second Western symphony orchestra to visit New China after 1949, the first being the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

At that time, they performed in a noisy gymnasium, but now they would be at the splendid, state-of-the-art NCPA.

Wang, too, is all agog with excitement. Although she has been dubbed the "next Lang Lang" or "future of classical music" in the West, the 22-year-old is not as famous in her home country. "I was so excited to know that maestro Abbado would have me to open this summer's Lucerne Festival. After I finished my piece in the first half, I sat among the audience to listen to Mahler's First Symphony. I could not believe I had played with such a great orchestra," Wang recalls.

The Lucerne Festival in Beijing will also feature the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, again founded by Abbado, which is actually the core of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

Chinese conductor and composer Tan Dun will take the baton for the music by Mozart, Haydn, the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and Tan's Porcelain Concerto: Song of the Earth.

"Takemitsu and I have something in common; for example, we are both interested in nature, and his work features the rich influences of traditional Japanese music, while I have benefited much from folk and traditional Chinese music," says Tan.

The occasion will mark the world premiere of Tan's Porcelain Concerto: Song of the Earth. Tan calls it a response to Mahler's Song of the Earth.

"Inspired by the loose German translation of the famous Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai's poems, Mahler's Song of the Earth is a dialogue between the German composer and the Chinese poet, and a dialogue between Western classical music and Chinese literature. My piece is a new exploration of modern music to interpret the Tang poems. It's my answer to Mahler and Li Bai."

For the concerto, Tan has picked more than 100 porcelain and pottery pieces made in China's six porcelain towns. "They are made into plucked, wind or percussion instruments. Porcelain is made of the earth, so the music played on them is the real 'song of the earth'," says the composer.