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Beijing Is Better Late Than Never at the 11th Annual Music Festival
October 2, 2008 at 4:59PM by Chris Schmicker |  comments

Beijing Music FestivalThe cultured traveler knows that patience pays off, and late arrivals can sometimes be the best-timed. So while Phelps-crazed sports fans streamed into the Chinese capital this August to contend with Olympic-sized crowds of foreign tourists and Beijing's infamous summer smog, we turned our sights to the Beijing Music Festival (October 2-19.) Now in its eleventh incarnation, it's the largest classical music festival in the Eastern hemisphere, with not a flame-haired "Fuwa" mascot in sight.

This year Long Yu, conductor and founder of the China Philharmonic, leads a program that, while largely focused on the Western canon, features Chinese singers and musicians performing on several nights with their counterparts from Europe and North America. Soprano Hui He, who had her New York Philharmonic debut earlier this year, is one of these to watch. She sings selected movements in the title roles of Aida and Tosca with the Deutsche Oper Berlin on the 9th.

Performances like this may misrepresent the true significance of a Beijing-based classical music festival though. Mastery of the Western repertoire by Asian performers is not a new phenomenon. More notable then, are the works in the program that draw on non-Western sources for inspiration.

There is, for example, the China premier of Korean composer Unsuk Chin's exuberant Rocana -- Sanskrit for "room of light" --  on the 4th, praised as "a riot of cosmic energy" at its March debut. And also the inventive Heroine Trilogy (pictured) by Li Liuyi and Guo Wenjing on the 18th, which tweaks the staging and score of three traditional Chinese operas for its modern audience. No easy task, considering the centuries-old legacy of Chinese opera and what some call its strident musical signature. Still, these works succeed in reminding us that "classical" music is, ultimately, bound by chronology, not geography.

Ponder these thoughts as you exit the recently renovated Forbidden City Concert Hall and weave your way through the courtyards of Zhongshan Park, a swath of sculpted gardens bordering the ancient imperial palace. When the weather begins to cool in early fall and rare glimpses of blue skies can be had before coal-burning furnaces are fired up for the frigid winter, it's hard to imagine being in Beijing at any other time of year.

October 2 - 19
Performance times and venues vary.
For full schedule visit:

Tags: Beijing, music, china


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