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August 16, 2011

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Summer Air concerts come to a close

MUSIC lovers in Shanghai recently enjoyed a series of concerts embracing a variety of genres. Zhang Qian looks back at some of the music festival's highlights.

The second "Music in the Summer Air" (MISA) festival ended on Saturday after bringing a variety of concerts to the Shanghai stage.

A solo concert of Chinese folk singer Song Zuying perfectly wound up the two-week music feast. Her collaboration with Shanghai Symphony Orchestra won huge applauds from the audiences many of who cannot help singing together with her in some well-known songs.

For the first time she collaborated with tenor Wei Song and baritone Liao Changyong. "It is the first time for me to cooperate with these two artists. I think it is a good start," says Song.

Aiming to provide local audiences easy and affordable access to classical music, MISA presented about 15 concerts, sponsored by China Mobile, Bank of Communications and The KT Wong Foundation, by musicians from both home and abroad with tickets costing less than 300 yuan (US$46.90) each, with the cheapest 30 yuan.

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Chinese cellist Qin Liwei and pianist Li Yundi were among the featured performers.

Compared with the first MISA last year, much more diversified music styles were presented this time on the stage of the Shanghai Culture Square, including classical, jazz and folk music.

"The festival last year was more like a trial, as we didn't know about audiences' taste; but we had a more mature plan this year," says Chen Guangxian, chief of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, a major organizer of the festival.

Cross-genre concerts were one of the highlights of the festival this year, according to him. Rather than providing pure classical music, the festival deliberately arranged concerts with elements of classical, jazz, tango and rock. MISA also included a performance by famous Chinese folk singer Song Zuying as its closing ceremony.

"MISA is supposed to provide a new environment for the residents to appreciate music, especially diversified classical music," says conductor Yu Long, who is also music director of MISA, "Shanghai is a city where dream starts."

Bringing different classical music to Shanghai residents is one of the major goals for the festival this time. "Classical music should not be dead and closed. We are ready to search for more renovation in presenting beautiful music beyond categorization," says Chen.

The "Crazy Classical" concert with works by three talented composers - Leonard Bernstein, Friedrich Gulda and Astor Piazzolla - won big applaud from the audiences.

"We supposed that the cross-category concerts would help attract more audiences rather than pure classical music lovers. And it did," says Chen, who was so thrilled to see the "Crazy Classical" concert well received by the audience.

"It is interesting to see jazz bass and guitar at a symphony concert," says 27-year-old Judy Li, who occasionally attends concerts with friends, "and the music is fun."

The performance by the Royal Phil Brass Quintet also showed many local audiences for the first time the beauty of brass instruments alone rather than in a symphony orchestra.

"Low tones but lively rhythm, solemn but energetic - the seemingly contradictory characteristics are combined perfectly in a new way," says music lover Shen Yijing. "And the casual small steps that the performers took along with the music added more joyful color to the concerts and amazed audiences with the British-style performances."

The cooperation between Shanghai Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, soprano Huang Ying and Britain's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra thrilled many audience members.

Zoltan Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta," Hector Berlioz's "Les nuits d'ete" and Antonin Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9 in E Minor ('From the New World')" suit the orchestra well, according to Guan Qi, a 50-year-old audience member.

"The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is really good at dance music; they can quickly move to the joyful quick melody and present the motions well," says 35-year-old Zhang Shuangyi, an interpreter and also a classical music fan. "And 'From the New World' fulfilled my expectation. The conductor is very familiar with and loyal to the original piece. I believe that their performance satisfied most of the audience."

Though the two-week music festival with abundant top artists has attracted hundreds of audiences, Yu isn't satisfied enough. "I would suggest the festival move back to temporary stage next year."

(Last year's temporary stage was erected near Shanghai Conservatory of Music.)

"All the strict rules in concert halls such as no camera, no late arrival, no applauds between chapters have restricted a lot audiences' freedom to enjoy music," says the conductor.

Outdoor music festivals are not rare in the West where audiences can freely enjoy the music in the woods, on the lawn or in the park. That includes the Central Park Concert by New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Concert from the Waldbuhen by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. All aim to provide a relaxing atmosphere for the audience to feel the music.

Yu says he feels very sorry seeing audiences being interrupted when they take photos and are forced to wait outside due to late arrival. "In that case, how is it different from the ordinary concerts?"

The festival had planned to be launched at the Fuxing Park but forced to move due to an underground reservoir discovered.

"Launching a summer music festival is to provide a new way for audiences to get close to music. We will plan early for next year's MISA least making it ordinary concert series again," says Yu.


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