Classical:Next, day two: The market in China

- 1 June 2013

Avoid religious works, forget about YouTube and Facebook and think residencies rather than one-nightstands: these were among the lessons offered at a Classical:Next conference on Arts Management Tools in China.

Networking at Classical:Next
Photo: Eric van Nieuwland

Gianluca Zanon, an arts management consultant in China since 2006, said a basic lesson is that the country is not just divided into city versus countryside, but three levels of city, with Tier 1 comprising Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. How the tiers are defined is unclear but promoters should be looking at venues beyond the top tier, he said.

‘Social media normally used by us do not work in China,’ he said. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are blocked, but there are local equivalents. ‘This does not only affect what tools we used but also fee expectations,’ Mr Zanon said. Having a huge following on Twitter, say, counts for nothing in China.

It is little known, he said, that religious music has been banned in China since 2008. Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale of Ghent discovered this when they wanted to perform Bach’s B minor Mass. One concert hall got around the ban by having them perform just 90% of the Mass, arguing that it was therefore not religious, he said.

Guo Shan, president of the China Symphony Development Foundation, said there are 60 professional orchestras in China, defined as being approved by the culture ministry and having more than 60 full-time members. Half are directly owned by the government, 20 are chamber orchestras. Only one is completely privately owned: the Huangshi New Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, whose chairman is a local department store owner.

State subsidy accounts for a third to half of an orchestra’s budget, with average salary being 23,000 euros. Some players are paid as little as 1,500 euros a year though, and have to supplement their income through recording and teaching &#8210 a problem under discussion, she said.

Several foreign orchestras have toured China, she said, but the ‘social relevance’ of single-concert tours was being questioned, even though tickets for such events sold out a year in advance.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s one-week residency in Beijing was considered a positive precedent, as is the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s partnership with the New York Philharmonic (involving  an orchestral academy and joint commissions), and a similar link between the Berlin Philharmonic and the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra. The Lucerne Festival also plans a one-week residency for 2014.

Among orchestras with foreign guest conductors are the China Philharmonic and Guangzhou Symphony with Krzysztof Penderecki, the China National Symphony Orchestra with Michel Plasson and the Shanghai SO with Charles Dutoit, but the only foreign music director is Christian Edward at the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra.

She said most music students still study romantic and classical works, reflecting audience tastes. Mr Zanon said Western contemporary music was little known. When it was suggested to the manager of one major venue that he put on a Philip Glass opera, he asked: ‘Who is Philip Glass?’

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