Classical renewal in the air

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World-renowned conductor Adam Fischer is visiting the Chinese mainland for the first time, performing with the Wiener Symphoniker, or Vienna Symphony, in a tour of China that began on May 28 and finishes on Thursday.

On May 29, the conductor took the baton to lead the orchestra in performances including Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major, Op 77 and Richard Strauss' symphonic poem Don Juan, Op 20, featuring violinist Julian Rachlin, at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

"I didn't have time to walk around the city yet. But I was impressed by the venue and the Chinese audience," Fischer says.

They also performed two concerts at the NCPA on Tuesday and Wednesday, including Mozart's Symphony No 41 in C major, K 551 (Jupiter), Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus Overture and Fritz Kreisler's Marche Miniature Viennoise.

"I believe that musicians from around the world love to perform in China because the country has the most exciting audience. I saw many young people, and young parents bringing their kids to our concerts.

"Back in Europe, we often see senior audiences, and we are concerned about the future of classical music. In China, there is no such concern because those in the audience are very young," the conductor says.

Fischer, 74, the founder of two international festivals — the Wagner Days festival in Budapest, Hungary, and the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria — says the music the orchestra chooses to play in China is very classic.

"Every time I play those musical works, I can see new possibilities behind each note," he says. "I would devote the rest of my life to music, though I have no idea how long I will live. What I do know is that music by great composers like Beethoven and Mozart keeps me young forever."

The orchestra performed at the NCPA in 2014 and 2017, says Jan Nast, intendant of the orchestra. "In 2019, when we discussed collaborations with the NCPA and planned to perform at the venue again, the coronavirus pandemic hit all of a sudden, which forced us to postpone our schedule," Nast says.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the orchestra created online concerts for classical music fans, like many other orchestras worldwide.

"Like the audience, our musicians are eager to get back to live concerts. The tour in China, especially concerts at the NCPA, is more like homecoming," he adds.

Nast recalls that in 2014, when the orchestra played at the NCPA for the first time, Shanghai-born violinist Huang Mengla, who won first prize at the prestigious Paganini International Violin Competition in Italy in 2002, was invited to join the orchestra in the performance of Mendelssohn's famous Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op 64. In 2017, the orchestra performed Beethoven's symphonies cycle, which made it the first Western symphony orchestra ever to play all nine of Beethoven's symphonies in Shanghai.

This year's tour also brings the conductor and the Vienna orchestra to more Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Shenyang in Liaoning province, and Tianjin.

The Wiener Symphoniker was founded in 1900 and gave its official debut in the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein under the baton of Ferdinand Lowe on Oct 30 that year. In its first decades, the orchestra premiered an impressive series of works, which are now anchored in the repertoire, including Anton Bruckner's Symphony No 9, Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and Franz Schmidt's The Book with Seven Seals. The orchestra was also the first in Vienna for international composers, such as Claude Debussy, who repeatedly performed with the orchestra as a pianist.

"I have played with the orchestra and the conductor many times," says violinist Julian Rachlin. "I also played with many Chinese symphony orchestras, such as the China Philharmonic Orchestra and the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra. Like the conductor said, I also feel that the audience is full of enthusiasm."

During the orchestra's current China tour, Rachlin is playing Mozart's Violin Concerto No 3 in G Major, K 216, Kreisler's Violin Concerto from Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen and Brahms' Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 77 with the orchestra.

Rachlin, with a career spanning more than 30 years, has taken his many interests with him around the globe as a conductor, soloist, chamber musician, teacher and artistic director. He says he enjoys "seeing two sides of a coin", and by taking on different jobs, he sees different aspects of music.

"I also founded music festivals, and I am very happy when I spend a great time with other musicians, which is beyond the joy of music," Rachlin says. "The chemistry among people is unbelievable. When we performed onstage last night at the NCPA, the chemistry between the conductor, the orchestra and me was remarkable, which also could be sensed by the audience."

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