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Diversity of harmony

By Cheng Yuezhu | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-01 17:52

Greater Bay Area sets the stage for young classical musicians from around the world to open their ears to the playing of others, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

From Jan 20 to Feb 1, a group of virtuosi and young musicians from home and abroad gathered in the Greater Bay Area for a series of classical music events in Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The 2024 Youth Music Culture the Greater Bay Area, or YMCG, featured concerts, lectures, outdoor performances and master classes, and not only served as a platform for exchange and learning, but also brought music to the GBA's cultural landmarks.

This year, British conductor Daniel Harding began his term as the new artistic director of the annual classical music showcase, a position he will hold until 2028. The project had a faculty comprising 13 seasoned musicians from world's leading orchestras, as well as more than 80 young musicians from over 50 international music conservatories and 16 Chinese orchestras.

Austrian violinist and project faculty member Martin Zalodek instructs Lin Ruifeng, 2024 YMCG Orchestra's concertmaster.[Photo by Li Lewei/For China Daily]

"One of the greatest pleasures of this project for me was being able to choose a team of people to come with me. I wanted to bring people from very different orchestras so that all together, the young musicians here would get different kinds of influences," says Harding.

"It was very easy to find faculty members of exceptional musical level because we are very lucky to have exceptional musicians all over. But I wanted to find more than that. I wanted to find people who share the same spirit, people who would know how to be patient and kind with the young musicians, but also expect a lot from them."

Each year, the young participating musicians come together to form the YMCG Orchestra, and undergo an intensive rehearsal schedule and perform both orchestral and chamber music concerts. This year, major performances included three YMCG Orchestra concerts conducted by Harding in the Xinghai Concert Hall in Guangzhou, the Shenzhen Concert Hall and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall.

The program included the world premiere of Aureate Skylines, written by Hong Kong composer Elliot Leung specially for the event, Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra in E-flat Major, K 364, and Dvorak's Symphony No 9 in E Minor, Op 95.

Conductor Yu Long (left), chairman of the Youth Music Culture the Greater Bay Area project's artistic committee, in a public talk with British conductor Daniel Harding, the project's artistic director.[Photo by Li Lewei/For China Daily]

Outdoor performances were also hosted at the urban landmarks of the Greater Bay Area, from Guangzhou's Cantonese Opera Art Museum and the Guangdong Museum, to the seaside piazza of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

The young musicians were selected by auditions in October, both on the spot and via video call. Three young musicians from the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra joined this year's event, among them bassoonist Zhang Cong.

At 30, the upper age limit for participants, Zhang felt this was a valuable opportunity. Despite having a performance in Shenzhen that day, to attend the event on Jan 20, he drove to Guangzhou immediately afterward.

"The rehearsals are diverse, and Benjamin Moermond, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's principal bassoonist, has given us a lot of guidance and advice. This includes individual coaching and instruction during woodwind section rehearsals and orchestra rehearsals," Zhang says.

"I have also been seeking his expertise on performance techniques and practical challenges that may arise while working in an orchestra, such as ways to handle specific passages, articulation techniques and breath control."

The harmonious atmosphere among the young musicians was another aspect that captivated him. Despite the mix of orchestra musicians and students brought together for a short period of time, Zhang says that they all became instant friends.

French double bassist and project faculty member Lorraine Campet (right) plays alongside the young musicians.[Photo by Li Lewei/For China Daily]

"We have bonded not only at rehearsals but also in our spare time. Everyone is very dedicated and serious at rehearsals. I feel that we all have a strong sense of commitment and a shared goal, that we all want to give our best at the concerts. I think this is truly moving," Zhang says.

French double bassist Lorraine Campet, one of the faculty members this year, says that the young musicians share the same motivation and courage even when faced with hardships, and although the time was short, she observed progress within the orchestra.

"Day by day, they have improved in finding the common sounds and the way of playing together. Their ears are more open to others' playing," Campet says.

Evolution and growth

Founded in 2017 as Youth Music Culture Guangdong, the annual event was hosted for six consecutive years until 2022 by the Department of Culture and Tourism of Guangdong Province, and organized by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and the Xinghai Concert Hall.

Conductor Yu Long served as the chairman of the artistic committee, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma as the artistic director.

In 2023, the event was upgraded and renamed Youth Music Culture the Greater Bay Area, with its activities extending beyond Guangdong province to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Harding conducts the 2024 YMCG Orchestra in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on Jan 28.[Photo by Li Lewei/For China Daily]

Beginning in 2024, YMCG is now co-organized by five institutions based in the Greater Bay Area — the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, the Xinghai Concert Hall, the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Macao Orchestra.

Violinist and orchestra manager Sookyoung Lee was one of this year's two young musicians from the Republic of Korea. It was her second time attending YMCG, as she first participated in the 2018 edition, after a Chinese friend told her about the event.

"I had a really memorable experience working with Yo-Yo Ma and a great faculty. At that time, about half of the curriculum was focused on classical music, but the rest also covered other music genres," Lee says.

One of the workshops that left her with a deep impression was one that involved improvisation along with traditional instruments from different countries. The workshops and the event's overall free and lively atmosphere was a refreshing experience for her.

Another motivation to apply again was learning that Daniel Harding was to serve as the artistic director. On Jan 24, he gave a public talk with Yu, in which he spoke of his own dual careers as a conductor and a pilot, which inspired Lee to keep her own dual careers.

Faculty members and young musicians give a performance in Guangzhou's Cantonese Opera Art Museum.[Photo by Li Lewei/For China Daily]

"I've learned how to be more open-minded musically and personally. Maestro Harding said in every rehearsal that we have to learn to listen to others rather than playing alone in an orchestra. While we're playing our own notes, it's crucial for our ears to listen to what others are doing at that moment. This was an important message for me," Lee says.

Despite the diversity among the faculty members and the young musicians, Harding says the varied levels of English pose no challenge.

"When it comes to playing music, when it comes to demonstrating a musical idea, the understanding is instant. It's an old cliche that music transcends language barriers, but we know it — the emotions that we find in music remind us that the things we feel inside ourselves are felt by everybody else," Harding adds.

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