Serebrier in China
January 15, 2013
José Serebrier recounts his recent China tour with the Russian National Orchestra
This was my second international tour this year with the Russian National Orchestra, after our South American tour in May, and my second tour of China, after the tour a year ago with the Orchestra of the Americas. This latest tour of China started with a most unusual concert on December 27th at the over-powering, massive marbled Great Hall of the People, right in the heart of Tiananmen Square with two orchestras performing together side by side: the Russian National Orchestra and the China National Symphony Orchestra, 190 musicians in total! In 2011 China officially announced that it would endeavor to become “a major cultural power.” This year the congress announced it would become a “maritime power”, so they decided to combine both themes, and hence the invitation to the RNO and me to perform “The First Annual ‘Ocean China’ official New Year’s Concert.”
The Great Hall of the People is an enormous marble building to which the main populace has little or no right of entry. It would be the equivalent of a western congress building and seats 10,000 people. Security is similar to airports but more invasive and the omnipresent serious guards are rather scary. This concert, an official event sponsored by the Bureau of the Oceans, showed very set ideas regarding the music: each work had to represent the ocean. Smetana’s Moldau was rejected because it’s about a river, not the ocean, and the same with the Blue Danube Waltz, a China favorite at that time of year. The Bureau insisted on Debussy’s La Mer, Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Wagner’s overture to The Flying Dutchman. The Tchaikovsky was a first in China. I rehearsed with the RNO in Moscow, and we flew to Beijing on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, just hours after the long flight from Moscow, we held our only actual rehearsal with the two national orchestras together, and to our amazement it all blended beautifully as if by magic. The Chinese conductor En Shao led the first part of the concert and I was assigned the second part. I had never met Maestro Shao before and was impressed by his musicality and personality. He got excellent results from the massive orchestra, and we worked beautifully together in sharing this unusual concert. The huge public consisted of invited guests, probably government officials and their families. It was taped for future national TV broadcast, if the results are good. Both orchestras performed beautifully together, the question is whether the quality of the recorded sound in such a cavernous hall. I would love for it to be seen by the general public, if the sound quality is of sufficient merit.
The following day, the indefatigable RNO and I began our marathon tour of eight more concerts in as many days, in six cities, inaugurating new halls along the way. In several cities I was asked to sign Naxos CDs, hundreds of them! Everything in China is done in a big way. In recent years new amazing concert halls and enormous opera houses have appeared all over China. In both tours we inaugurated various halls that had been just built with state of the art equipment and unusual architectural shapes.
One of the most rewarding concerts for us was at the NCPA, that famous egg-like structure in Beijing, for a public that would not let us leave the stage, demanding encore after encore. Our repertoire for the tour included Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Marche Slave, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Russian Easter Festival Overture, Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture, and a large selection of encores, including Piazzola’s Oblivion. The relationship with the amazing RNO musicians grew even closer as we struggled together daily from city to city, often with only a few hours of sleep, delighted in bringing music to such culture-hungry people, spreading the message that music, of all kinds, brings people together beyond cultural or political barriers, helping to create an atmosphere of understanding and paving the way for closer communication between peoples. The most important element for me was to touch the hearts of the public, to move them and give them an artistic experience that would inspire them to come back for more music, to touch their souls. It was fantastic to turn around to accept the public’s applause and to see all those smiling faces. Many of these people were first-time concert goers, so the challenge was especially important for me to inspire them and to leave them with a warm, glowing feeling about classical music.
Recent releases on Naxos:
José Serebrier Biography & Discography
Russian National Orchestra Biography & Discography
En Shao Biography & Discography