One week earlier than usual, China Philharmonic Orchestra will start its 2004-05 season with a commemorative concert to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), the late leader of the Communist Party of China, on August 22 at Poly Theatre.
Under the baton of Yu Long, its artistic director, the orchestra will play Liszt's "Les Preludes," Richard Strauss' "A Hero's Life" and "Four Last Songs." The renowned soprano Cheryl Studer will demonstrate her powerful voice and vivid interpretation of "Four Last Songs," one of her signature repertoires.
The playlist has been well selected to honor the memory of the great political figure and hero of China's contemporary history. Meanwhile Liszt and Strauss' musical extravaganza will definitely pave the way for a high-profile new season.
As revealed, the new season will see 71 concerts, including 36 regular concerts in Beijing, 10 concerts in other cities in China and 25 concerts abroad.
Yu stated the regular concerts are divided into two themes: Brahms serial and Fifth Anniversary concerts.
China Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in Beijing on May 25, 2000 and has developed steadily every season since. "A five-year-old child can speak. A five-year-old orchestra might be too young but still has its own voice in China and even in the world classical music scene," says Yu.
On May 25, 26 and 27, 2005, the young orchestra will give three concerts to celebrate its own birthday. On the first day, the promising pianist Lang Lang will return to play Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy in C Minor Op 80." Shanghai Opera Choir and the Choir of the National Symphony Orchestra of China will join the celebrated Chinese soprano Fu Haiyan, mezzo-soprano Yang Jie, tenor Wei Song and baritone Wang Haitao to perform Beethoven's "Choral" symphony.
Scheduled on the second day is a chamber concert. The musicians of the orchestra will display their amazing techniques in solo, duet, trio or quartet.
The last concert will be the most eye-catching. Many of China's more renowned conductors such as Huang Feili, Huan Xiaotong, Lin Kechang, Han Zhongjie, Yan Liangkun, Xu Xin, Yuan Fang, Zheng Xiaoying and Bian Zushan will be featured at the concert.
"They are fathers and mothers of China's classical music. Without their continuing devotion and contribution, today's classical music would not be the same. Without them, there would not be a China Philharmonic Orchestra," says Yu with great respect.
After Dvorak, Beethoven and Mahler, Yu and his orchestra will turn to Brahms in the coming season. They will play Brahms' four symphonies, concertos and serenades.
"The orchestra has accumulated a wide repertoire in the previous four seasons. Now the Germany-trained conductor Yu turns his hand to another great composer of the Germany-Austria school. Playing Brahms will display their confidence and courage," says local classical critic Li Cheng.
Like every previous season, Yu has invited a long list of established masters to the 2004-05 season. Besides Studer, Beijing's concert-goers will enjoy conductor Tang Muhai, Michael Stern, Johannes Wildner, violinist Sara Chang, Cho-Liang Lin and cellist Wang Jian, among others.
Opera is always on Yu's mind. In the 2004-05 season, he will present Charles Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet." The director and setting come from the Capitole Theatre of Toulous, France and the performers are all Chinese vocalists such as tenor Zhang Jianyi, baritone Liao Changyong and mezzo soprano Liang Ning.
Yu will also produce something new, a Peking Opera "Women Generals in Yang's Family" (Yangmen Nujiang) to the accompaniment of a symphonic orchestra. It will be an exploration of combining the traditional Peking Opera and Western classical music.
From February 23 to April 8, Yu will lead the orchestra to 25 cities in seven European and North American countries. It would not only be the longest tour for China Philharmonic Orchestra, but the longest overseas tour for any Chinese orchestra. Orchestras rarely tour on such a grand scale, not even established Western orchestras.
"It will be a physical challenge. We must have great endurance for such a long tour far away from home, from the concert-goers we have become familiar with," Yu says. "But I am confident we will present our best to the world."
He also emphasizes that he will bring many Chinese works on the tour, saying "It is a mission to tell the Chinese story to the Western world."
At the press conference to introduce the new season, Yu recalled the 2003-04 season in high spirits, describing it as "a bumper harvest."
Along with rising pianist Lang Lang's Tchaikovsky Concerto No 1 and Mahler's profound "The Song of the Earth" last season, China Philharmonic Orchestra played more than 160 works in 50 concerts, co-operating with conductors Vladimir Ashkenazy, Klaus Weise, violinist Kindon Kremer, cellist Wang Jian, among many other well established musicians.
The biggest achievement was that it performed Mahler's second, third, sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth symphonies.
"It took us three seasons to finish Mahler's symphonic works and last season we challenged the heaviest six pieces," says Yu. "We are proud of doing that. It is never easy for any well-known orchestra in the world to play all the symphonic works by Mahler."
In addition to the 50 regular concerts, the orchestra toured around China and abroad. Its tour of Paris, Warsaw and Vienna received unexpected acclaim.
"Although we had been abroad three times in the previous seasons, the four concerts in three European countries displayed our great improvement in discipline and musical quality," says Yu.
The unforgettable operas played last season were: the classical "Carmen", Guo Wenjing's modern chamber opera "The Night Banquet" and "Diary of A Mad Man."
"Four years ago when the orchestra was founded, it set the goal to be the best orchestra in China, top in Asia, and well-known to the world. I am confident to say that it has achieved it," says Li Nan, general manager of Poly Culture & Art Co Ltd.
"Four years is not a short time. In China, few artistic directors could stay at the head of an orchestra for so long a time. Following the establishment of China Philharmonic Orchestra, quite a few orchestras in the country have started to reform. But none of them is as stable and promising as China Philharmonic Orchestra. Yu and all the members of the orchestra deserve two thumbs-up. They advance the orchestra steadily every season," says Li.
(China Daily August 20, 2004)