The Violin Channel recently caught up with Jindong Cai, Artistic Director of the China Now Music Festival.
This December will see the third edition of US-China Music Institute of Bard College Conservatory of Music's China Now Music Festival. Can you tell us about this edition? How did you adapt to the COVID-19 situation?
When we realized back in March that we would likely have to cancel all live performances for potentially the rest of the year, if not longer, we quickly decided that we would hold this year's festival completely online. We also knew we wanted to focus on "China and Beethoven" for this edition since it is the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
Beethoven holds a unique and historic importance in China. His legacy is about someone who persevered and successfully overcame so much adversity in life. That is something that so many of us around the world can relate to this year, as we deal with the many challenges of the pandemic. We thought it would be a wonderful gift to share this positive message of hope with as many people as possible.
We saw that transitioning to an online format would provide us with not only new opportunities to engage even more amazing performers from across the U.S. and China who could contribute remotely, but also to reach and connect the festival to a truly global audience, since anyone can sign up to attend from wherever they are for free.
The festival is part of the Chinese Music Development Initiative. Can you tell us about its main goals and missions?
In the 21st century, China has become a powerhouse for Western classical music. There are new concert halls, opera houses, orchestras, music schools, and music compositions being created every year in China.
The Chinese Music Development Initiative is a partnership between the US-China Music Institute of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China. Our main goal is to showcase and explore music from contemporary China in the West.
We’ve created several groundbreaking projects as part of the initiative, including the first degree-granting program in Chinese instrument performance in a U.S. conservatory, an annual conference, and youth programs in Chinese music. Of course, the annual China Now Music Festival shares this mission, as we have been commissioning new orchestral works every year.
How important is western classical music in China?
Western classical music is just as important in China as it is in the West. People love to listen to classical music there. But one difference is that, in China, there are more and more young people listening to classical music.
What can listeners expect to hear at this year’s festival?
This year's festival program is especially rich and diverse. In addition to wonderful concerts and performances, there will be discussions and lectures with leading musicians and authors, conversations with producers of theatrical productions about Beethoven in China, special film screenings of documentaries, and so much more.
On December 11th at 7:30pm EST, our opening event, "China’s Sage of Music," is a concert and lecture where I will trace the story of Beethoven’s ascent into the cultural imagination of China. Bard College President Leon Botstein will share remarks on Beethoven’s universal appeal and enduring relevance, followed by performances by Bard’s The Orchestra Now and the Shanghai Youth Philharmonic.
On December 12th at 8pm EST, our "Beethoven in China" webinar will feature China Institute’s Renwen Society hosting me in a webinar discussion in Mandarin Chinese talking about my book "Beethoven in China: How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People’s Republic."
On December 13th at 7:30pm EST, a concert and lecture titled "Beethoven Made in China" will enable audiences to experience an exciting and imaginative evening of musical interpretations of Beethoven with Chinese accents, presented by world-renowned artists including bass-baritone Shenyang, pipa virtuoso Wu Man, composers Tan Dun and Yu Jingjun, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, The Orchestra Now, and musicians of the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music.
On December 14th at 7:30pm EST, "Beethoven with Us" will feature a Producer’s Expo that offers a peek into the Chinese market for all things Beethoven, including a musical based on Beethoven’s life, a play describing how his music became known in China, and an "Immersive Multimedia Beethoven Experience" exhibition at the Shanghai Concert Hall.
On December 15th at 7:30pm EST, a special "Shanghai Symphony: Night of Beethoven" concert will celebrate Beethoven’s birthday with the illustrious Shanghai Symphony, the oldest orchestra in China, featuring a selection of recent performances of some of Beethoven’s most iconic symphonic and chamber works, specially selected for the China Now Music Festival.
On December 16th at 7:30pm EST, a private film screening of "Beethoven in Beijing: an American Orchestra’s Journey" will take place, where audiences will get early access to the new documentary "Beethoven in Beijing." The film follows the Philadelphia Orchestra on their first historic trip to China in 1973 and chronicles the opening of China to western classical music since the end of the Cultural Revolution. The screening is in collaboration with History Making Productions, the Wharton School, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
On December 17th at 8pm EST, a roundtable discussion "Building Bridges through Music: Beethoven in Beijing" will be hosted by the Asia Society of Northern California and moderated by author Sheila Melvin. This discussion, with filmmakers Jennifer Lin and Jindong Cai, plus guests Ryan Fleur, executive director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Ambassador Nicholas Platt, looks at the future of culture and diplomacy through classical music.
Finally, on December 18th at 7:30pm EST, the 2020 China Now Music Festival closes with a landmark performance of Beethoven’s complete Egmont, his musical setting of the 1787 play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in a new production by the China NCPA Orchestra in Beijing. With narration in Mandarin by Sun Qian, and featuring soprano Song Yuanming, the concert conducted by Lü Jia was recorded live at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on November 12, 2020.
The "Beethoven is Us" event will offer an insight into three unique productions currently underway in China. Can you tell us more about this?
Beethoven has affected and touched so many parts of life in China. It was important for us to feature not only musical performances but also examples of other performing arts and cultural events that have been created to share and interpret his legacy in China.
This is why we’re hosting what we’re calling a Producer’s Expo titled "Beethoven is Us," where we will offer a peek into the Chinese market for all things Beethoven. This includes a musical titled "Ludvig Beethoven" based on Beethoven’s life, a play titled "Beethoven in China" describing how his music became known in China and how Beethoven's humanity became part of Chinese people's life stories, and an "Immersive Multimedia Beethoven Experience" exhibition at the Shanghai Concert Hall. This exhibition is a fantastic way to explore and educate the Shanghai public about Beethoven and western classical music. I am honored to be hosting that event as part of our festival.
If we want to tune in and watch, how can we do so?
All festival events are free and online, so we hope everyone joins us. You can register to access and learn more about the festival details on our website: www.barduschinamusic.org/china-and-beethoven