Overseas musicians strike harmonious note in China

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Chen Nan
Thursday 18 November 2021 16:17
<p>The Suzhou Symphony Orchestra was one of the first in China to include foreign musicians                               </p>

The Suzhou Symphony Orchestra was one of the first in China to include foreign musicians

One of Astrid Poghosyan’s favourite Disney characters is Mulan. As a young girl at home in Armenia, she watched the animated movie featuring the maiden with dark brown eyes and long black hair.

She was drawn to the folk tale about the courageous, loyal and self-reliant Mulan, who takes her ailing father’s place in the military and disguises herself as a man to go to war.

In addition to Mulan, Poghosyan became interested in traditional Chinese culture portrayed in the film, such as dresses, decorations and natural scenery, which made her determined to visit China. In 2009, when she was 16, she arrived to study violin at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music after winning a scholarship.

In early 2017, just before she obtained her master’s from the conservatory and was due to return to Armenia, the Chinese government introduced a programme for international students to obtain work permits after graduation. Previously, such students had to have a minimum of two years’ work experience outside China before they could apply for a visa.

After Poghosyan graduated she decided to remain in China, landing a job with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Now working as assistant to Zhou Ping, the orchestra’s president, she is the ensemble’s first non-Chinese management employee.

“Working and living in China has been an interesting journey. I came here to study music, but I never expected to find a job and live here,” said Poghosyan, 28, who was born and raised in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra has attracted musicians from around the world

Poghosyan is just one of 10 foreign musicians working with the Shanghai orchestra, their nationalities including American, Italian, Japanese and South Korean, Zhou said.

“Thanks to China’s rapid economic development, the classical music scene is also booming, with more venues popping up and more symphony orchestras being founded, presenting opportunities not only for Chinese musicians but also for those from around the world.

“Due to their different training backgrounds, the musicians have diverse playing styles. With their rich experience of working with orchestras worldwide, they listen to each other and find a common voice. This blend of local and international talent is a wonderful cultural exchange.”

Peter Solomon, principal French horn player with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, said: “The growth of classical music in China over the past 10 years has been extraordinary. The orchestra was very good when I arrived. It is exceptional now. I think it is very rare for an orchestra to improve so much so quickly.” Solomon, who joined the orchestra in 2012, has made Shanghai his home.

Chen Guangxian, director of China’s Symphony Development Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 1994 aimed at popularising and developing the country’s symphony orchestras, said the number of domestic orchestras has grown greatly in recent years.

Around 2014 there were about 30 professional symphony orchestras in the country. Just three years later, the number had grown to more than 80.

“There are opportunities not only for young Chinese musicians but also for those from around the world,” Chen said. “As symphony orchestras mushroom around China, overseas musicians are heading to the country to make the most of these new opportunities.”

Chen is also director of the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra, which was founded in 2016 and is based at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre Grand Theatre in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. With an average age of 30, the orchestra features about 80 musicians from 17 countries and regions, including China, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US.

Previously published on Chinadaily.com.cn

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