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A Night Tour de force

By Zhang Kun | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-31 07:56
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Composer Zhou Tian (middle right) and Yu Long (middle left), music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, lead a rehearsal with the musicians of the SSO.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Finalists of prestigious violin competition perform personal interpretations of Grammy-nominated Chinese composer's latest concerto in a series of online concerts, Zhang Kun reports in Shanghai.

Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition has had a unique arrangement since its first edition, with each contestant required to play a Chinese composition.

This year they were required to play a new violin concerto named Night Tour by Zhou Tian. The 41-year-old composer is the first Chinese musician to be nominated for a Grammy Award in the best contemporary classical composition category.

The final round of contestants presented a series of online concerts from Friday to Sunday, forming the official conclusion of the third edition of the prestigious music competition. The six young musicians from five countries each played a piece of their own choice from the stipulated repertoire, and then Night Tour, a violin concerto commissioned especially for the event by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, organizer of the competition.

Since its first edition in 2016, Yu Long, music director of the SSO and founder of the competition, made it part of the contest's mission to promote Chinese culture to the international music community, by including the interpretation of a Chinese composition as an integral part of the final round.

The first edition featured the beloved violin concerto Butterfly Lovers, created by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao in 1958, and the 2018 edition featured Chen Qigang's La Joie de la souffrance (The Joy of Suffering), a new concerto jointly commissioned by the competition and several music institutions home and abroad.

Night Tour was commissioned by the SSO in 2019, for the third edition of the violin competition, which was scheduled to take place in 2020. It was postponed for nearly two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, the plan was changed to cancel the final round of competition in Shanghai, and have all six contestants record their final round of performances and present them online. The prize money was divided among them, with each receiving a scholarship of $20,000.

Compared to the Chinese composition for the first two editions of the competition, this year's piece is different in that "it reflects the modern outlook of China, as part of the global village", Zhou told the media in Shanghai via a web conference on Aug 22. He hoped audiences would feel like they were walking on the streets of Shanghai, "where modern landscape would merge seamlessly with traditional architecture," he said.

Praised by the Broad Street Review to be "a prime example of 21st-century multiculturalism", Zhou was nominated at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards for best contemporary classical composition for his Concerto for Orchestra. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and music director Louis Langree who commissioned and recorded the work, were also nominated for best orchestral performance.

Zhou's work has been performed by leading orchestras and musicians from both China and other countries. He was named "artist of the year" by Beijing Music Festival in 2019, and the artist in residence during the SSO's 2019-20 music season.

The inspiration for Night Tour came from an evening trip he made a few years ago from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, to Shanghai. "At the train station, I saw people going in different ways. Some may have been starting a new journey, while others were heading home, and the idea arose," he said.

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