As Alex Ross points out in his recent article in the New Yorker, we’re being increasingly told that China is the future of classical music. The numbers are staggering – 30 million piano and/or violin students (conservatively – more enthusiastic numbers-crunchers say as many as 100 million); conservatories 10 times the size of Juilliard; and an increasingly large presence on the international competition scene. But numbers don’t tell the whole story.
When I went to Beijing earlier this year, before and after the NY Phil’s historic trip to North Korea, I was impressed with the orchestra’s concert at the National Center for the Performing Arts (or The Egg, as it’s universally called in Beijing) – not by the program, particularly, or by the hall, which is IMHO an acoustic disaster, but by the people outside trying to scalp tickets to get inside.
But the closer you look, the more you see problems – classical music in China is being “used” as an aspirational device (look how cosmopolitan and modern we are), and as an expression of a new nationalism (we can do this as well as the West). For this reason, concert series and individual shows have a planned-by-committee feel to them.