Key notes from China at the Proms
29 August, 2019 — By Michael White
Eric Lu. Photo: ericlupianist.com
A FEW years ago, on a trip to Beijing, I was taken to see how Chinese children spend their Saturdays. And for vast numbers of them it’s not at football matches or skateboard parks, but in factory-like buildings with hundreds of small rooms, each one equipped with an upright piano at which some small child will spend the entire day bashing out scales and arpeggios.
To see this is to understand something of the way the balance of power in classical music is shifting east. In old-world Europe we’ve grown blasé about Bach and Mozart. But in new-world China they can’t get enough of it.
And the result is a tsunami of outstanding pianists, singers, violinists and conductors sweeping across the concert circuit – with more than a few of them turning up next week at the Proms.
On Sunday (September 1) the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra play a morning concert (note the time, 11am) with their conductor Long Yu, a ubiquitous figure in Chinese musical life who not only runs orchestras but festivals, conservatoires, government initiatives and everything else you can think of. Like someone out of Gilbert & Sullivan.
Part of their programme is a Mozart concerto with Eric Lu, the 21-year-old Chinese-American who won last year’s Leeds Piano Competition to great acclaim. So that should be interesting.
Yuja Wang. Photo: yujawang.com
And later next week, on Thursday, September 5, at 7.30pm, a still more celebrated pianist comes to the Proms in the person of the dazzling, glamorous, in-your-face but technically impeccable Yuja Wang – playing Rachmaninov 3 with the venerable Staatskapelle Dresden. She courts controversy but has fireworks in her fingers.
You will not be bored.
• All Proms are broadcast live on Radio 3. Full details: bbc.co.uk/proms
Other Prom highlights this week
Painting of Sir Henry J Wood by Cyrus Cuneo (1879–1916), Illustrated London News, 8 February 1908
SOMETHING you can’t help noticing at the Proms, because it’s always there, is the spotlit bust of Sir Henry Wood that presides over the Albert Hall platform. And it’s there because Wood was the conductor who founded the Proms back in 1875 – partly as a platform to promote British music and musicians, but also to introduce the British public to new works being written in mainland Europe.
In all truth, he probably wasn’t a great conductor. But he was competent, courageous, and important as a catalyst who changed the way things happened culturally. And this Saturday (August 31) there’s a special Prom to mark his 150th birthday – with a programme that follows the model he established, involving a sequence of small items, a world premiere, and John Ireland’s Piano Concerto which Wood introduced to the world in 1930.
Camden residents might like to know that he was one of us – because, though born in Oxford Street (where his father was a jeweller), he spent part of his childhood in a house in Pond Street Hampstead, and owned for much of his adult life in Elsworthy Road, NW3. So feel connected.
• The Wood anniversary Prom is on August 31, 7.30pm. Broadcast live on Radio 3, and screened on BBC4 on September 1. Full details: bbc.co.uk/proms