In the USA classical music has the reputation of serving the cultural desires of a highly educated elite or a professional elite who can afford the extravagant costs of performances. There is often a formality and, dare I say, an attitude that sometimes goes along with classical performances in the West. It is often felt that classical music is for old folks. Indeed, there have been more than a few reports of the demise of this art form in the West. This is not so in China, where young folks in tee shirts and jeans and moms toting along their children regularly fill concert halls. Classical music has been embraced by Chinese folks because of the challenges involved in performing and appreciating these works and the gratification to be derived from doing that. Chinese conservatories are producing virtuosos galore and China has become a regular stop for many of the best Western performers and orchestras. With the reform and opening up of China in 1978, we got the megacity of Shenzhen from a fishing village in under 40 years. So, how appropriate that Shenzhen should now have one of the best concert halls in China after less than twelve years. My interview with Fanny Liao.
Can you give us a brief history of the Shenzhen Concert Hall?
The Shenzhen Concert Hall was officially opened on the 12th of October 2007, together with the Shenzhen Library, the Shenzhen Central Book Mall, the Children’s Palace and the Guan Shanyue Art Museum. So the Concert Hall is located at the cultural center of Shenzhen. Since the moment of completion, the Concert Hall has stuck to one and only object: becoming level with top-class world music venues while working with global virtuosos and renowned orchestras. During these years, the Shenzhen Concert Hall has also made an effort to create a series of influential public welfare projects like “Beautiful Sunday”, “Afternoon Music Time”, “Music on Your Journey” and “New Year’s Concerts”.
Over the past 12 years, thousands of concerts have been presented here to millions of audience members. Based on the professional venue, our sincere goodwill, our consistent accomplishments and careful management, the Concert Hall has attracted lots of famous domestic and foreign musicians and orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker, SWR Symphonieorchester, London Symphony Orchestra, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, and maestros like Zubin Mehta, Christopher Eschenbach, Yo-Yo Ma, Lang Lang, Itzhak Perlman and other celebrities. Open for only 12 years, the Shenzhen Concert Hall has successfully established itself as a highly respected venue for music for this young city of Shenzhen, a coastal city in China that, since 1978, has carried out the Chinese government’s reform and opening-up policy. In such a brief time we at the Concert Hall have earned an esteemed reputation and the affection of world-renowned artists as well as our appreciative and valued audience members.
How would you describe the architecture of the hall?
Shenzhen Concert Hall is a modern professional hall specifically designed and constructed for music performances. The hall covers a surface area of 26,345 square meters and a construction area of 41,423 square meters. The Concert Hall was designed by Arata Isozaki, a famous Japanese architecture master, who enjoys a reputation in the international construction field. The outlook and shape of the Hall are special. The outer walls, for instance, are painted in five colors: yellow, red, blue, white and black, which represent the traditional Chinese philosophy of the Five Elements.
Combining the beauty of its architecture and its perfect functionality, the Concert Hall looks exquisite and unique with its main building consisting of a Symphony Hall, Theatre Studio and other ancillary facilities. The Symphony Hall and Theatre Studio, of international standards, are not only suitable for performances of symphonic work, chamber music, instrumental solos, ensembles, concertos, vocal solos, multiple duets, group singing, chorus, opera, musicals, to mention but a few, but they can also be used for such activities as film or music festivals, live music fashion shows, and holding domestic and international music events. The Golden Tree Foyer, outdoor music square, video studio, recording studio, VIP room, dressing room, audience lounge, art apartment and other facilities have enriched the artistic charm and practical features of the Hall.
Acoustically, the Symphony Hall is a pure, naturally acoustic hall of a comparatively large scale in China. It is designed according to the manner of a canyon terraced field. The total surface area is 2323 square meters, with 1680 seats in total. The architectural acoustics was designed by Toyota Nagata Acoustics with a reverberation time of 1.8-2.0 seconds. Every auditorium is surrounded by reflection wallboards, which, coordinated with the sound reflection board above, achieves perfectly natural sounds. The Symphony Hall mainly focuses on original sounds, but in order to meet the needs of all types of performances, an auxiliary electric audio system was specially designed for sound amplification. Zubin Mehta once praised us by saying: “We held the New Year Concerts in Shenzhen Concert Hall and Shanghai during the visit. It was unexpected that the Shenzhen Concert Hall has such wonderful sound effects. I consider the Shenzhen Concert Hall as the best one of all the concert halls I have visited in China!” (Music Weekly, 16 Jan. 2008) And Lang Lang acknowledged that the acoustic effects of the Concert Hall are so good, that the performance effect can even be compared with the Berlin Philharmonic Hall. He pointed out that “no matter where a seat is, the musical effect heard by everyone is the same.” (Yangcheng Evening News, 16 Oct. 2007)
In order to better display the charm of music and the arts, and bring citizens in Shenzhen more engaging audio-visual experiences, no efforts have been spared in the configuration and management of the instruments in Shenzhen Concert Hall. The Hall, for example, strived to create a gigantic pipe organ which has the widest range of tones and the most complete timbre. It has 86 stops and 6,432 tubes. It cost 17 million yuan ($2.4 million) and was tailor-made for the Shenzhen Concert Hall by Rieger Orgelbau, which has 150 years of manufacturing history in Austria. Six Austrian engineers spent six months to complete the installation. Following the design concept of Chinese palaces and pavilions, it is the only organ in a traditional Chinese style, with the unique timbre of an eastern chime bell, in the world.
Can you think of some “magical moments” at the Shenzhen Concert Hall?
The “magical moments” would have to be the one hour’s time of “Beautiful Sunday” and “Afternoon Music Time” every Sunday and Saturday afternoon. “Beautiful Sunday” has been an audience-beloved public project and completely free to the public since 2007. It has provided citizens free access to enjoy elegant music in this exquisite art palace, and it is one of the largest scale and longest-lasting public welfare arts programs in China. The project has won a lot of awards and has made a great contribution to our audience development.
“Afternoon Music Time” was planned and launched in Shenzhen Concert Hall starting in 2009. The audience can watch various forms of performance during “Afternoon Music Time” free of charge without any ticket, and performances have included the display of folk and Western musical instruments. This project not only provides a professional art stage for Shenzhen art-training institutions but also more opportunities for those adolescents pursuing their art dreams to display their talents.
Where do you see the future of the Concert Hall?
The past twelve years were surely a good start for the Shenzhen Concert Hall. Over the past years, we provided the charm of music and the arts, hosted some of the best performances on the international stage and saw the strengthening of the humanities which are going along with the economic development of the city. In the future, it will be a time of great prosperity and great development for Shenzhen culture and arts, and its development will become even more appreciated and marketable, and bear more social responsibilities. This will coincide with the public welfare insisted on for more than ten years by the Shenzhen Concert Hall.
In the future, the Shenzhen Concert Hall shall gear up its brand construction, operation and management in line with international conventions to shape its own soft power, build a domestic first-class concert hall which possesses a good reputation and popularity, and pay more attention to marketization and multi-cultural development. On the basis of the existing high-quality commercial performances, the Hall will also continue to improve the quality of our programs to build an international exchange platform for cultural arts and provide strong support in the development of derivative markets for the combination of arts and industries. Furthermore, in the field of public welfare the Shenzhen Concert Hall will make use of our advantageous resource platform to actively bear more social responsibilities and cooperate with relevant agencies to establish a platform for charity funds. We have already had the enjoyment of the past twelve years, and we are also looking forward to the future with our most sincere longing for continued excellence and service.