Classical musicians head to China

Jocelyn Ford May 17, 2006

Classical musicians head to China

Jocelyn Ford May 17, 2006


SCOTT JAGOW: A lot of classical music orchestras in many smaller American cities are having tough times financially. So what is a musician or a conductor to do? Perhaps take a cue from the business world and head to China. Here’s Jocelyn Ford.

[ Orchestra music ]

JOCELYN FORD: Today is the second day conductor James Kalyn has rehearsed Beijing’s National Opera and Dance Symphony Orchestra, and so far he’s pleased.

[ Kalyn at rehearsal: “Good, good, it’s very exciting, isn’t that fun to play?” ]

Last year when Kalyn quit a full-time university position in North Carolina to become a freelance musician, he had no idea China would be offering the jobs.

[ Kalyn at rehearsal: “Basses when you have your. . .” ]

This is his third trip. He’s performed saxophone and was the manager for the Oberlin Conservatory Orchestra’s five-city tour of China. Kalyn says the connections he’s made have opened up opportunities he wouldn’t dare dream of in the United States.

JAMES KALYN: This you know sort of gig, to conduct a professional orchestra at a good concert hall in a major city is extremely difficult thing to get in the United States.

Until recently, musicians from abroad who wanted to teach here, but weren’t famous, had to make the trip on their own dime. But demand for classical music is reaching a crescendo in China.

In the last year the National Opera and Dance Orchestra that hosted Kalyn more than doubled its income. Chinese concert organizers say that’s because rising middle class is willing to spend that money on new experiences and classical concerts have cache.

[ Orchestra music ]

Kalyn discovered that when he brought the Oberlin orchestra to a backwater city, and read a local newspaper article about the concert.

JAMES KALYN: They actually said this was evidence of china’s increasing cultural sophistication and evidence of the increased size and wealth of the middle class in China.

The local audience was noisy, and organizers didn’t understand the needs of a western orchestra. They failed to set up the music stands and chairs on stage ahead of time.

JAMES KALYN: When we walked in the door for our rehearsal before the concert, and there was nothing on the stage. There were only about 25 young men from the Chinese army waiting to be told what to do

Their commander gave orders.

JAMES KALYN: The problem is the leader doesn’t know anything about setting up an orchestra, and he wouldn’t listen to us.

So he had to reset the stage himself. When Kalyn conducted a Chinese orchestra back in Beijing, there was no Red Army on hand, and the audience was prepped in advance on concert etiquette.

[ Forbidden City auditorium announcement: In order to maintain an elegant environment, please do not walk around during the performance, please do not applaud between movements, please do not chew gum in the auditorium. . .]

It was a well mannered crowd and eager for an encore.

[ Applause. . .]

Kalyn is now planning a fourth trip to China.

In Beijing, I’m Jocelyn Ford for Marketplace

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