On a high note

By Chen Nan | China Daily
Updated: Dec 14, 2018
Two concerts held at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Dec 10 and 11 mark the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up. [Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]

Leading composers say China's music scene has improved with the reform and opening-up, Chen Nan reports.

In 1978, China launched economic reforms that subsequently touched different aspects of citizens' lives, including music.

A year earlier, the national college entrance exam resumed-after the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) had ended-and the Beijing-based Central Conservatory of Music, which also reopened then, set up four student-enrollment offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, attracting over 170,000 applicants.

But only 105 students could be admitted to the school in 1977.

The six teachers of the conservatory then, including Li Chunguang and Yang Jun, wrote a letter to the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, asking for permission to increase the intake of students. Two days later, Deng replied, saying he had agreed to their request. The number was raised to 213.

"The teachers wrote the letter because they saw many talented youngsters at the audition and hoped that the young people would get the opportunity to study in the school," said music conductor and president of the Central Conservatory of Music, Yu Feng, during a forum at the school on Dec 10, marking the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up.

"It helped define an era of China's music scene."

Two concerts were held at the National Center for the Performing Arts on Dec 10 and 11, with performances by the Central Conservatory of Music Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Chen Lin, a student of Yu.

They showcased China's achievements in classical music over the past 40 years. The repertories featured pieces by graduates of the conservatory, who are world-renowned musicians today, including Extase for oboe and orchestra by Chen Qigang, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Tan Dun and Horizon, Op 20, for soprano, baritone and orchestra by Ye Xiaogang.

Two concerts held at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Dec 10 and 11 mark the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up. [Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]

The renowned Chinese composers, Ye, Tan and Chen, who enrolled at the conservatory to study music composition in 1978, gave speeches at the forum, recalling their school days and sharing their understanding of the changes in the country's music scene both as witnesses and creators.

"Western classical music started taking root in China less than 100 years ago and has achieved a lot, especially since the reform and opening-up started," says Ye, 63, who was born in a musicians' family in Shanghai and started learning the piano at age 4.

Now, he is the chairman of the Chinese Musicians' Association and a professor at the Central Conservatory of Music. He initiated the Beijing Modern Music Festival 16 years ago.

Ye came to Beijing when he was 23 years old and began his studies at the conservatory. He worked in a factory in Shanghai for six years before that.

"We benefitted from the reform and opening-up, and the resumption of the national college entrance exam. Now, Chinese musicians perform internationally. Looking back, the year 1978 laid the base for China's rise on the global stage," says Ye, adding that the originality and creativity of Chinese composers has been among the important changes in the classical music scene in China in the past four decades.

"The merger of Western classical music and Chinese culture has made the works of Chinese composers unique," Ye adds.

An exhibition showcases the achievements of the Central Conservatory of Music over the past 40 years. [Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]

New York-based composer Tan, 61, who was born in Hunan province and joined a local Peking Opera troupe before he went to study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, says his favorite place as a student at the conservatory 40 years ago was the library there.

"I read books and scores in the library after classes. So did my classmates. We wanted to learn, to practice and to test our musical ideas. Now, I want to know what the young students read."

Tan's works cover various genres, including orchestra, opera and film scores. One of his most famous works is composing the Oscar-winning soundtrack of Ang Lee's 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Tan recalls that his years at the school introduced him to a wide range of international classical and contemporary music, which laid the foundation for his future experiments that transcended style and cultural boundaries in composition.

"Now my elder son is interested in movies while my younger son, who is 12 years old, loves music. He reminds me of my younger days and I am grateful for the life-changing experience 40 years ago," Tan says.

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