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Tianjin Juilliard pioneer charts exciting course

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2022-06-13 06:09
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He Wei (in jacket), artistic director and dean of the Tianjin Juilliard School, oversees rehearsals with students for the graduation concert. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In August 2017, after living in San Francisco for over two decades, He relocated to China with his wife to become the first artistic director and dean of the Tianjin Juilliard School.

As a move that acknowledges the growing market of classical music in China, the Tianjin school is the first performing arts institution in China that offers a US-accredited music degree.

He recalls vividly the pre-opening phase of the school, from establishing the administrative team, recruiting resident faculty from around the world, to curriculum design, exploring artistic initiatives, and developing institutional policies and regulations.

"Over the years that I lived and worked in the United States, I've frequently traveled back to China to perform and give master classes, which allowed me to witness the profound changes in the country's classical music scene," says He. "The booming market of China's classical music scene particularly appeals to international students and professional artists."

On May 20, the Tianjin school hosted a commencement ceremony for 33 graduates from eight countries, including China, the US, South Korea and Uzbekistan, the first graduating class for the school.

"When I came to Tianjin, I didn't know what to expect, just like our faculty, staff and students. We launched our pre-college and graduate programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is still going on, but our students have graduated. The past two years were quite challenging and meaningful to all of us," says He.

"Some of the students chose to establish careers in China by joining major symphony orchestras here. It's very exciting because symphony orchestras have been developing quickly in China despite the pandemic," adds He. "I'm equally excited to see students pursuing a career in a string quartet or a group of students forming their own ensemble, serving the community through performance series and educational concerts."

He is also welcoming his new role at the Tianjin school. In late June, he will be its CEO and artistic director.

He Wei (in jacket), artistic director and dean of the Tianjin Juilliard School, oversees rehearsals with students for the graduation concert. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Though it's a new role, it feels like I've been well-prepared during the past five years, since I was involved with the early development of the school in all aspects," he adds when asked about his new position. In his new role, He will further strengthen the role of the Tianjin school in China by working with more Chinese educational partners, and offering students more opportunities to perform onstage with art institutions, such as music schools and professional art companies.

New projects, such as public education programs appealing to amateur music lovers, and recruiting students and teachers from around the world, are also on the agenda, despite being particularly challenging amid the pandemic.

He will continue as artistic director and serve on the school's violin and chamber music faculty on a limited basis.

The Tianjin school was officially announced in 2015 by Joseph W.Polisi, the sixth president of The Juilliard School in New York during the visit of Peng Liyuan, the wife of President Xi Jinping. Polisi held the position as president of the school for 34 years (1984-2018), the longest presidential term in the history of the school.

Partnered with the Tianjin Conservatory of Music, the Tianjin school offers Juilliard's master's degrees in the areas of orchestral performance, chamber music performance and collaborative piano studies. It also offers a pre-college program for students aged from 8 to 18, with its inaugural class launched on Sept 7, 2019. Every Saturday, students from around the country would study at the Tianjin campus. However, due to the pandemic, some of the classes have been conducted online.

In the 2022-23 academic year, the Tianjin school will launch three new majors: classical voice and classical guitar majors for the pre-college program and harp as part of the orchestral studies major.

As a violinist, He also tries to perform with students, despite his hectic schedule. He points out that "faculty performing side by side with students is one of the key practices at Tianjin Juilliard. It motivates and inspires students directly through live interaction in a real-time setting".

This culture of student and faculty interaction was evident at the celebration concert on May 19, the day before the commencement, in which He shared the stage with students and other faculty colleagues.

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