What explains the flourishing of classical music in recent years in China at the same time that classical music organizations are struggling in the United States? The answer might be government support, which is driving a boom of orchestras in China, as well as paying for international tours, such as China National Symphony Orchestra’s visit to Strathmore in February. The current tour of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra ended with a concert at Strathmore on Sunday night.
This ensemble was founded in 1977, in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution and the death of Mao Zedong, and its tour of the Americas this month has included renting out Carnegie Hall and Strathmore. The playing was at a professional but not extraordinary level, with the conducting of Tan Lihua more foursquare than inspired in the concluding work, the first two suites from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The slow dances were the most successful, with some lovely flute solos in particular. The heavier pieces were mostly just loud, with some intonation issues in the woodwinds and a lack of unity in the faster string passages.
Government support also pays for many commissions of new orchestral works by Chinese composers, including two pieces heard here by Guo Wenjing. The “Lotus Overture” was mostly slow and meditative, with bland orchestration and little to be remembered, in spite of many repetitions. “Desolate Mountain,” a concerto for bamboo flutes, was more promising in terms of the variety of instrumental colors, even though Guo repeated himself by having some of the musicians sing and hum in both pieces.
Soloist Tang Jun Qiao, playing beautifully on three instruments of different sizes, brought out the distinctive buzzing quality of these flutes, which typically have a thin membrane of reed over the blowhole.
Downey is a freelance writer.