Drum roll for classics

Updated: 2011-08-05 10:58

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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The second Mercedes-Benz International Music Festival will shine the spotlight on percussion music this summer. Chen Nan reports.

Three Chinese cities - Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen - are in for a treat of the finest of classical music at the second Mercedes-Benz International Music Festival.

Bringing together nearly 20 musicians from Spain, Demark, Germany and China, the festival will shine the spotlight on percussion music this summer.

Renowned percussionist Li Biao, and his group, will put more than 200 percussion instruments on stage to present classic pieces such as Ogoun Badagris by composer Christopher Rouse and CaDance for Four by Andy Pape, as well as his original compositions such as Drum Together. The performance will cover a range of genres, from classical to jazz and pop.

Li will also collaborate with the symphony orchestra of the National Center for Performing Arts (NCPA) and world-renowned conductor Christoph Eschenbach on Chinese composer Guo Wenjing's enchanting The Rite of the Mountain, which was written in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

Eschenbach, who is also a great pianist, will join violinist Zhu Dan for a concert that is sure to be one of the highlights of the festival. They will perform Mozart and Beethoven sonatas.

As the music festival marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, Eschenbach will conduct such works as Mahler's Symphony No 1, "Titan" and Dvorak's Symphony No 9 "From the New World."

Eschenbach first conducted a Mahler symphony - Symphony No 5 - in 1978.

Having conducted all of the composer's works subsequently, Eschenbach says Mahler is the greatest symphony composer after Beethoven. Each of Mahler's pieces is unique, he says.

Young Hungarian pianist Gergely Boganyi and trumpet player Gabor Boldoczkiand, will present a joint concert, besides holding solo performances.

The Spanish singing group, B Vocal, will perform at the music festival for the first time. Their music combines humor and a cappella music (music sans instrumental accompaniment). They will bring folk music pieces from Mexico and Moscow as well as the rock classics of Elvis Presley, giving audiences a fresh listening experience.

Li, who continues to serve as artistic director of Mercedes-Benz International Music Festival, says classical music is often seen as serious and sometimes boring in China. By bringing together Chinese and Western musicians, and putting the various instruments on one stage to produce fresh sounds, the music festival aims to give audiences a different experience of a classical music festival.

Li says he wants to take local audiences closer to classical music and show them its colorful side.

"Li and his band gave impressive concerts during last year's festival," Ren Yi, director of NCPA's PR department, says.

"I have seldom seen such an enthusiastic response from the audience. That's why NCPA wanted to continue with the festival this year," Ren says.

Li also points out that collaborating with top Western musicians can inspire young Chinese musicians.

As the first percussionist selected by the Chinese government to study in Moscow after graduating from China Conservatory of Music in 1988, Li is regarded as one of the few outstanding full-time solo percussionists on the international music stage.

As music professor at Beijing Central Conservatory of Music and Hochschule fur Musik Hanns-Eisler of Berlin, Li also tours around the world with his percussion group, which was founded in 2005.

Although percussion does not occupy center stage in Chinese music, Li has been trying to spark interest in percussion music by organizing performances and summer camps to help Chinese children learn and enjoy percussion instruments.

In October 2010, when the first Mercedes-Benz International Music Festival was held in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, audiences got to enjoy a variety of genres, from Latin and jazz to classical.

According to Li, the success of the music festival could be attributed to both the range of genres presented as well as its arrangement.

"Usually a classical music festival goes on for months and this tires the audience. I want to present pieces within a short time, to keep the excitement and interest alive," he says.

The music festival will be held at Beijing's NCPA, Shanghai's Oriental Art Center, Shenzhen Music Hall and Shenzhen Poly Theater.


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