Our Shanghai correspondent Rudolph Tang has been studying the makeup of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, ahead of its visit to his country. Here is an English version of his report for local media. Vienna Philharmonic members, please read with care.
Musicians either of Chinese origin or of Chinese descendants prevail in the world of orchestras. There are strong or notable presence of them in Zurich Opera Orchestra, New York Phil, Munich Phil, Bavarian Radio SO, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester, LA Phil, SFS etc. But none can match the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Out of the 12 Chinese musicians in the CSO, 11 will appear in the forthcoming China tour at the end of this month, led by Robert Chen, the concertmaster. In China, Taiwanese are also considered Chinese. To them, it’s a trip home.
Nine musicians work in the string section, one in the woodwind, one in the percussion. Students from the east excel at strings, as violinist Rong-Yan Tang noted, they are able to endure hardship. Ms Tang, a protegee of Isaac Stern when she played in a summer camp after going abroad in 1993, joined CSO in 2003.
She and Ms Yuan-Qing Yu shared the same tutor while studying at the middle school affiliated to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. A few years senior, Ms Yu joined CSO in 1995 and now is the assistant concertmaster.
Mr Chang Li-kuo is undoutedly the most senior of all. He was appointed assistant principal viola by Sir Georg Solti in 1988. He has been a father figure to many Chinese orchestra musicians abroad. A close friend of Daniel Barenboim, he facilitated the Chinese biography of Daniel Barenboim published a decade ago. He also toured with West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with Daniel to China two years ago as a special consultant.
The peak of Mr Chang’s career in China came in 2009 with CSO’s China tour in 2009 with Bernard Haitink. He wrote a public letter to the then mayor of Shanghai, Mr Han Zheng, praising the good audience behaviour. The mayor blessed him with a return letter. Together they appeared on the local newspaper.That brought Mr Chang instant fame reaching far beyong the music world.
Ms Weijing Wang, the viola player, joined CSO in July 2012. She vividly recalls her curtain audition. Most of the contestants after the second round were Asian. She was lucky enough to be accepted into the orchestra. “This will be my first trip to China after I came to the US for further study in 2004″, she said:”My parents live in Shanghai. They bought 18 tickets, some for friends. They will come and cheer me up at Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre. I can’t wait to see them.”
The 2013 CSO China tour will cover Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin. After the tour some Chinese musicians will go home to celebrate the Chinese New Year which falls on February 9th. Welcome home!