Students strike a chord with the past

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A music work by the eminent Chinese American composer Chou Wenchung (1923-2019), Landscapes, for orchestra, was finished in 1949 and premiered by conductor Leopold Stokowski with the San Francisco Symphony in 1953. It employs three traditional Chinese melodies to create three landscapes with each accompanied by a poem — Under the Cliff in the Bay, The Sorrow of Parting and One Streak of Dying Light.

The piece was considered Chou's first mature work. He had abandoned his scholarship in architecture at Yale University to pursue his dream of composition at the New England Conservatory.

On May 18, the piece was performed by a newly formed orchestra of about 50 students from the Tianjin Juilliard Orchestra and 43 students from 14 music schools, including the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the Juilliard School in New York, Singapore's Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the Korea National University of Arts in Seoul.

Under the baton of conductor Ken Lam, the concert also performed New England Triptych composed by William Schuman (1910-92) and The Firebird Suite (1919 version) composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971).

"It's a very beautiful Chinese music piece, in which I tried to capture the Chinese spirit portrayed by the composer," says oboist Jordan Dale. "It's been a very long time since I played with people from different countries. It's very exciting to meet people and play music together again."

The US student came to the Tianjin school to study with oboist Liu Mingjia in October 2021, and he will graduate this summer, hoping to get a position with a Chinese symphony orchestra.

"I was introduced to the Tianjin school by a friend of mine, who graduated last year. It has been a great experience to explore a new country and learn about Chinese music, which is new to me," says Dale, who played My Beloved Brought Me Sunflowers by Chinese composer Ding Shande (1911-95) during his graduation recital held in March.

Kang Yunmao, a 19-year-old student from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, says that the rehearsal schedules for the concert were very hectic — three hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon.

"I always enjoy performing in an orchestra, which is a totally different feeling from performing as a soloist. On our first day of rehearsal, we went through the music scores together and we were a little quiet. We had done rehearsals for five days. On our second day of rehearsal, we became friends very quickly. We listened to one another's playing and made progress together."

Lam, who is director of orchestral studies at the Tianjin Juilliard School and resident conductor of the Tianjin Juilliard Orchestra, stresses a sense of togetherness.

"It has been such a pleasure working with students from so many different conservatories and music schools. All of them are fantastic players but of course, we had to find a way to work together for our concert, and that means being flexible, working toward unifying our musical ideas, finding ways to match and blend, and listening to and learning from one another.

"Bringing together a 'festival orchestra' in a few short rehearsals is never easy and requires a lot of give-and-take on everyone's part, but I hope we have found the process to be stimulating and productive."

During the five-day exchange program, students also had two master classes. On May 17, two concerts were held, featuring student chamber music ensembles from the Juilliard School in New York, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the Central Conservatory of Music, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the Korea National University of Arts.

According to He Wei, CEO and artistic director of the Tianjin Juilliard School, the school has quickly resumed international cultural exchange programs after the country optimized its control measures on the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 18, a roundtable discussion was held at the Tianjin school with leaders of conservatories from the 15 music schools, including Peter Tornquist, dean of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and Ye Xiaogang, dean of the School of Music, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen. They shared ideas about music education and cultural exchange programs after the pandemic.

"We have been through such a difficult global time and now we finally can come together," says President Emeritus Joseph W. Polisi, who led the Juilliard School in New York for 34 years (1984-2018), as the longest presidential term in the history of the school.

"The idea of Tianjin Juilliard has been about people-to-people exchange from the very beginning. All of us around this table have the opportunity to contribute to that," says Polisi, who witnessed and promoted the launch of the new campus of Tianjin Juilliard when the China-US collaborative project started in 2015.

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