Guangdong invites Yo-Yo Ma to create a new cultural highlight in the province

Guangdong invites Yo-Yo Ma to create a new cultural highlight in the provinceYouth Music Culture Guangdong launches on January 7, 2017

After nearly two years of planning, the inaugural Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG) festival will take place in Guangzhou from January 7 to 15, 2017. This festival, which is scheduled to become an annual event, will be a major cultural highlight for Guangdong province in the years to come.

Presented by the Guangdong Provincial Department of Culture, YMCG is organized by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra (GSO) and the Xinghai Concert Hall. Celebrated conductor and GSO Music Director Long Yu was instrumental in inviting world-renowned artist Yo-Yo Ma to become YMCG’s Artistic Director. In fact, preparations for YMCG have already attracted much attention. On September 7, Yo-Yo Ma and Long Yu both took part in the press conference announcing the inaugural festival, which will feature a dazzling array of public events including two symphonic concerts, four chamber concerts and five “Music + Dialogue” sessions, as well as improvisation workshops and open rehearsals. The main site of these activities—Guangzhou’s Ersha Island—will transform itself into a full-time “cultural hotspot.”

Yo-Yo Ma: A musical icon for the Silk Road

Yo-Yo Ma is a musical genius whose name is revered around the world. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and an Honorary Doctorate from Harvard University; he currently serves as a U.N. Messenger of Peace; to date, he has won 17 Grammies … but all these are mere labels. Yo-Yo Ma rose to prominence and achieved success as a musician, but he has extended his sights far beyond musical horizons. In 1998, he launched the Silk Road Project and Silk Road Ensemble, organizations dedicated to artistic, cultural and educational activities. Its inspiration originated from the ancient Silk Road from China, where diverse cultures and beliefs collide and interact. Its mission is to generate encounters among artists from around the world, breaking through geographical distances to establish a dialogue across time and space.

Anyone attending a concert by Yo-Yo Ma leaves the hall with a fresh perspective: that classical music performance doesn’t have to be serious! Since the legendary Leonard Bernstein, few classical musicians have such attributes in adding a human dimension and passion to the music. Although renowned as a classical musician, Yo-Yo Ma has proven himself supremely adaptable, winning accolades in other Grammy categories, most recently “Best Folk Album” (2013) in collaboration with like-minded artists. Ma has also recorded music for film, including Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Precisely because his music crosses cultural and ethnic barriers, in September 2006, the United Nations named Yo-Yo Ma a Messenger of Peace. In short, the name “Yo-Yo Ma” epitomizes an open-minded and all-embracing attitude to music; he is a living icon for dialogue and communication.

Born in France and raised in the United States, Yo-Yo Ma retains much of the humility and reserved nature typical of Chinese ancestry. Amidst diverse cultures, he freely wields his musical creativity as an exemplary “global citizen.” From his perspective, the core value of YMCG is the exchange and melding of cultures East and West. To him, the realization of his artistic ideals in Guangzhou—a major port along the coastal Silk Road—is all the more meaningful. Yo-Yo Ma, a man with a treasure-trove of artistic experience and at the pinnacle of international fame, will inject his diverse and innovative artistic concepts into shaping YMCG.


Eminent artists establish an open and all-embracing international platform

Artists engaged for the inaugural YMCG include core members of the Silk Road Ensemble and principals of major American orchestras. Some people have posed the following question: with Yo-Yo Ma’s celebrity status and the world-class orchestras that engage him, why would he devote so much energy to the Silk Road Ensemble? To Ma, the Silk Road is a symbol of how different cultures connect. In other words, the Silk Road Project is akin to a “cultural laboratory” that extends and expands our imagination and our embrace of the world.

Yo-Yo Ma also explained his personal selection of instructors—each with a unique global vision—for the inaugural YMCG. For example, New York Philharmonic principal oboe Liang Wang was born in China in the 1980s. Wang had served as principal oboe for a number of renowned orchestras before joining the New York Philharmonic. At present, he is the only Chinese-born principal wind player in one of the world’s top orchestras. Also, Ma could not contain his enthusiastic praise for Mike Block: “An artist who is far more creative than me! And he plays music from around the world. You’ll see him leading a dozen players improvising without any written score, which is fantastic!”

The team of instructors assembled for Guangzhou spans different instruments and different areas of expertise, but they are all leaders in their respective musical or educational fields. All of them are at the forefront of cross-cultural communication, daring to break through traditions, reveling in their ability to meld differences. More importantly, these instructors are all highly creative artists, which is why Yo-Yo Ma invited them to Guangzhou. They are normally based in Europe, America, West Asia and China. In Guangzhou, they will spark creative ideas with young musicians from different locations too. Although instructors and participants stem from different backgrounds, they gather to make new music, to add even more depth and breadth in their communication and exchange and to generate even more possibilities in understanding the diverse cultures behind the music.

Currently, the Chinese government is pursuing a “One Belt One Road” strategy, and culture is the foundation of all exchange and co-operation. Among the many cultural and artistic genres, music truly exists without borders, and the team of international instructors assembled by Yo-Yo Ma will dedicate themselves in building bridges to connect countries and regions on the cultural front. Ultimately, diversity engenders exchange, exchange nurtures fusion, and fusion leads to progress.


Focus on the younger generation nationwide and abroad who are keen to engage

The YMCG festival is focused on the younger generation, sharing musical skills as well as encouraging personal growth. Participants not only deepen their knowledge of classical music through exposure to different styles of music, but also learn to be open and flexible in their approach. The main vehicle to put the philosophies of the festival into practice is the YMCG Orchestra—comprising musicians under the age of 35. This ensemble, specially set up for the festival, promises to be filled with vitality, befitting the energy of Guangdong province at the forefront of China’s reform and open-door policy. Here, friendships will be made through music and a large, extended family will be fostered by cultural fusion and exchange. American conductor Michael Stern will serve as Music Director of the inaugural YMCG Orchestra.

Following the suggestion of Yo-Yo Ma, the inaugural YMCG festival is open to young musicians of Chinese descent from around the globe. It is Ma’s wish that this new festival taking place in China begins with a gathering of Chinese musicians. Future YMCGs will shift their emphasis on Asia-Pacific countries such as Japan, Korea and Australia.

Since the official announcement of the YMCG Orchestra in October, we have attracted more than 600 applicants from nearly 100 conservatories, arts organizations and professional institutions across three continents. These applicants are based in America (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Cincinnati), Canada (Vancouver, Fredericton), Germany (Berlin, Dresden, Nuremberg, Münster), England (London, Birmingham), Moscow, Vienna, Singapore, and such Chinese cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Urumqi, Lhasa, Hohhot, Hangzhou, Xian, Kunming and Qingdao, as well as Hong Kong, Macao, Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung. Also on the list are applicants from the host city—young musicians from the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra. An artistic committee led by Yo-Yo Ma will select 80 musicians to participate in the inaugural festival, with the hope of including musicians from as many cities and countries.

The team of instructors led by Yo-Yo Ma will work with the YMCG Orchestra during the festival, establishing creative exchanges and conducting inspiring rehearsals; they will participate in “Music + Dialogue” sessions and concerts together. It is Yo-Yo Ma’s wish that participants will not only have a wonderful musical experience but also be inspired by new technical skills and fired by new ideas.

Working closely with Yo-Yo Ma is conductor Jing Huan, who, as a representative of China, was elected to serve on the executive committee of Jeunesses Musicales International last July. She looks forward to YMCG, because this festival isn’t just about individual and ensemble coaching, improvisation or “Music + Dialogue” sessions. “Today, classical music is no longer limited to modes of the past. Improvisation is probably unknown to many young Chinese musicians. How do young musicians in the future ‘play music’?” Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma also hopes that these young musicians can ponder three core issues—content (how to understand music), communication, and reception (whose needs does music meet)—answers to these philosophical questions will provide benefits for a lifetime.


Helping Guangdong Province further its position in culture and the arts

Standing at the forefront of China’s economic reforms for three decades, Guangdong Province has made significant contributions to the growth of the overall Chinese economy. But while urban centers enjoy rapid economic growth, progress in cultural life is a challenge that the whole world must face.

When devising the program for YMCG, Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma emphasizes “the power of culture.” From his perspective, music, sciences and the arts all form the core of culture, which is society’s tool to discover truths, establish trust and share meanings. When people perform, sing, write or ruminate, not only are they creating something beautiful with their knowledge, but they are also searching for solutions as we all confront the future.

The main activities and performances of the inaugural YMCG will take place in the state-of-the-art facilities of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra (1 Haishan Street, Ersha Island, Guangzhou) and Xinghai Concert Hall, which has been renowned as the hall built by the Chinese with the best acoustics. There will also be a multi-function “music tent” set up on the lawn outside the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra’s headquarters. Many Guangzhou natives have fond memories of this site that has long infused their lives with music: outdoor concerts, concerts on the lawn, choruses of a thousand have all been held there. The “music tent” will be used this January as a student and media center during the day, but it will transform into an unconventional performance space in the evenings, including “Music + Dialogue” sessions devised by Yo-Yo Ma. Not only will Ma and the instructors gather to discuss music, culture and art, but they will engage the audience to connect these issues and to search for answers, using our imagination as a “key” to open the doors not only to art but to the entire world.

YMCG gathers resources from around the world. It is a symbol of how Guangdong Province is fostering cultural development. Plans are underway for YMCG to take place on an annual basis.

Concert Details:

Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG) 2017—Jing Huan, GSO and GSYO
January 7, 2017
Xinghai Concert Hall

Performers: Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra
Conductor: Jing Huan
Cello: Mike Block
Sheng: Wu Tong

Tan Dun                     Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds
Zhao Lin                    Duo (for cello, sheng and orchestra) (GSO co-commission, 2011)
Ottorino Respighi     Pines of Rome

 Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG) 2017—Yo-Yo Ma and Michael Stern
January 15, 2017
Xinghai Concert Hall

Performers: YMCG Orchestra
Conductor: Michael Stern
Cello: Yo-Yo Ma

Maurice Ravel                 Valses nobles et sentimentales
Ludwig van Beethoven     Symphony No. 8 in F Major
Antonin Dvořák              Cello Concerto in B minor (2nd and 3rd movements)
Igor Stravinsky               Firebird Suite (1919)