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Have instrument, will travel

By Zhang Kun | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-28 09:43

At a concert conducted by maestro Yu Long, artistic director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A French horn played by an American in a Chinese orchestra: Can music-making get any more cosmopolitan than this?

Take a look at the conductors of the great orchestras of the world, and you cannot but be struck by how itinerant these maestros are. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is led by a Russian, the Berlin Philharmonic by a Briton, the New York Philharmonic by a Dutchman and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra by an American, to name but a few.

In China, orchestras in Beijing, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Nanning and Shanghai are led by Chinese conductors, but cast your eye over their orchestra pits and you will realize that they are increasingly taking on a multinational look, and possibly even sound.

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra has been a leader in the international recruitment of musicians since the 1990s and now has five foreign musicians in its ranks. In 1999 orchestra staff beat a path to Moscow in a quest to strengthen its brass section, and almost two decades later the Russian Alexander Filippov is still playing the tuba for the orchestra.

"My whole life - my family, my work and my relationships - now revolves around Shanghai, says Filippov, 57, whose move to Shanghai came about largely because of economic necessity.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 the government funding that had been the lifeblood of the country's artists for decades suddenly dried up, and many found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. As a result, musicians began to leave the country looking for work, and many headed to China, Singapore, South Korea and other Asian countries, Filippov says.

Life is full of wonder, he says, relishing the memory of someone who was raised in Siberia, who would one day find himself studying music in Moscow, and would eventually be fortunate enough to be chosen to practice his art in the exotic Far East.

"That's life," Filippov says. "Anything can happen."

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