Russia’s cultural invasion of China was relatively short – roughly 1952 to 1961 – but left a lasting mark, despite efforts to stamp it out.
The evidence is increasingly visible. In the lobby of the Shanghai Concert Hall, two manuscript pages from Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 are framed. How did they survive Mao’s Cultural Revolution? Inside the hall, the Shanghai City Symphony Orchestra is conducted by 88-year-old Cao Peng, who now proudly proclaims himself to be a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, has given his semi-professional orchestra a robust Russian sound and, together with his two daughters, has a music therapy clinic for autistic children. His conducting career spans over 60 years – with significant interruptions, no doubt.
Meanwhile, in the book stores and concert-hall kiosks where classical CDs are sold…
The Chinese need their own music just as much as they needs ours. And I don’t mean Chinese music that imitates western music – which is something that still happens. Several years ago, Lang Lang put out a disc of Chinese music titled Dragon Songs; I thought it was one of his most enchanting recordings. However, he was chided to his face by western interviewers who felt that Chinese music was inferior to the more established classics he usually plays. I can’t enter that discussion. That’s like debating the merits of Gershwin vs. Mozart. It’s two different things, both valid, both of great service to those who connect with them. And whatever one’s opinion is on that matter, the Chinese will find a firmer connection with western music by going at it through their own.