Martin Koch to make Ip Man musical organic

Updated: 2013-04-28 07:15

By Zhang Kun in Shanghai(China Daily)

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Martin Koch to make Ip Man musical organic

A good story is the critical ingredient for a successful musical, but music plus story alone can't complete the recipe, Tony-award winning music supervisor, composer and conductor Martin Koch believes.

The 55-year-old artist from Britain has worked in the music industry in the West End and Broadway for more than half of his life.

Koch made his first visit to China in March, immersing himself in the culture, to prepare for his work as a composer and orchestrator for the Chinese musical production Ip Man.

Koch worked as the music supervisor for the staging of Chicago at the Cambridge Theater when he was 21. Since then, his many credits have included Cats and several international tours of Les Miserables. He was co-winner of the 2009 Tony Award for Best Orchestrations for Billy Elliot the musical.

New to Chinese culture, Koch wants to bring his expertise and experience to Ip Man, a new production from China, and take it to the international market.

Miss Saigon and a few other plays are about Asia in general, he says, but nothing specifically Chinese has crossed the international footlights. A Chinese musical, with a Chinese story, using West-End style and format, integrating Chinese instruments, made for a universal audience, has great potential in the global musical scene, he believes.

He watched a Chinese musical about the creation of China's national anthem during his visit to Shanghai. Like several other original musicals in China, the play "needs a little organic work," Koch says. The songs are fine, he says, but more filling-in needs to be done.

You have to engage the audience, not just for a five-minute song, but on a two-hour journey, he adds. Despite the golden hits by ABBA, the play within Mamma Mia has to work, for example.

As music supervisor for Ip Man, he will train the cast, interpret the music and make it a natural and organic emotional thread.

To those eager to add various kinds of "Chinese elements" such as Peking Opera and martial arts to musicals, Koch says: "Nothing should be added unless it is relevant and essential to the play."

Ip Man the musical will be premiered next summer in Singapore, with lyrics in English, and go on to Broadway before touring China in Mandarin.

For his first visit to China, Koch went to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, meeting with and listening to Chinese musicians. Their versatility and outstanding techniques were exhilarating, he says.

He was particularly impressed with the yangqin, a Chinese hammered dulcimer, and how different techniques are used to play one instrument.

It was an eye-opener, Koch says. "China has many international level musicians. The key now is to take them to the rest of the world."

In the role of music supervisor, Koch worked on the opening and closing ceremonies for both the London Olympics and Paralympics.

"All the artistic directors for the London ceremonies used to work in theater," he says. When they decided they could not work on the same scale as the Beijing Olympics, they took a different approach, with less spectacle and more story-telling.

The theatrical side of the ceremonies has been particularly successful, reflecting the rich English heritage and creativity, Koch says.

Today's musical industry has set the production level very high, he says. The market for live shows has been affected by the financial climate. Musicians are having a tough time, but the music sector has stayed very healthy, Koch observes, and the China market seems eager for more.

(China Daily 04/28/2013 page4)