June 4, 2013

Classical:NEXT Transcending Borders

At the Vienna Classical:NEXT conference three sessions were scheduled on subjects related to the theme of mobility in the classical music world.

One such session began with a short presentation by the manager of the International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC), An-Heleen De Greef. IAMIC is a network of some three dozen organizations, mainly in Europe, that document, promote and provide information on the music of their country. Outside Europe, Musical Information Centres of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and the USA are also members. The hope for IAMIC is that this organization will continue to grow in the number of participating countries.

IAMIC as an umbrella group is actively carrying out its mission through an annual conference, research projects, partnerships, and exchanges. As the mandate of its members is not necessarily uniform, "your shortcut to the global music world" is a tagline which suitably sums up IAMIC's function.

One of the exciting initiatives connected with IAMIC is the MINSTREL project. Kostas Moschos, director of the Greece-based Institute for Research on Music and Acoustics (IEMA) gave an interesting presentation on MINSTREL, the acronym of which derives from the somewhat unwieldy title: "MusIc Network Supporting Trans-national exchange and dissemination of music Resources at European Level". As an acronym it is a bit of a stretch, but of course the original meaning of the word "minstrel" as a vehicle of musical exchange is absolutely apt. 

The mission of MINSTREL is to help musicians go outside borders. At this point the organization is Europe-focused with its partners which are primarily Music Information Centres based in Europe. However, the resources that are being developed will be available to "citizens of the world". MINSTREL's mission is being carried out through three channels: circulating musical works, supporting the mobility of artists, and facilitating exchanges of musical culture. 

At the core of MINSTREL's initiatives is a three-year project, currently in the early stages, to develop a portal for internet access to digitized scores and recordings. This is being done on a grand scale, drawing upon and linking such databases already in existence, but synthesized into one enormous database available to all. MINSTREL is also working on creating a database of EU ensembles, music organizers, promoters and music events, and in addition presents showcases, residency programmes, professional exchanges, festivals, and other collective transnational events. The vision for MINSTREL is grand; in the words of Kostas Moschos "this is the beginning of a big future: let the music go everywhere, especially the 'hidden' music not supported by 'the industry'".

Another conference session was on the topic of "Arts Management Tools in China". The two main speakers were Gianluca Zanon and Guo Shan. Mr. Zanon, an independent arts consultant working in Europe and China, began the session with some basic information about China. He spoke of the three largest cities Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, as cultural centres with very large populations, but also encouraged Westerners to consider exploring some of the smaller centres as well. Zanon has much experience in meeting the challenges for westerners in this vast land. 

Western classical music is a relatively new feature in the cultural life of China as doors were only opened to Western music twenty years ago. He also pointed out that religious music has been banned in China since 2008, which means that visitors to China (especially choirs) must choose their repertoire carefully. In general, the Romantic era composers are favoured, as well as Classical and Baroque music. Western Contemporary Classical composers are not yet part of the main repertoire. As Chinese traditional music is based on melodic richness, it will take time for Chinese audiences to accept new types of musical languages. Regarding promotion, Mr. Zanon reminded us that there is no twitter, facebook, nor youtube, so that the usual methods of digital communication cannot be used for promotion. In fact, social media is widely used in China, but only using specifically Chinese platforms: youku and weibo, for example.

Guo Shan, President of the China Symphony Development Foundation, gave her presentation in Chinese, ably translated by her assistant Chuanxin Mao. There are currently 60 professional orchestras in China, 30 of which are run by the government. Only three of them are privately run. The average annual salary of a musician in China is about $31,000 (CAD) while the lowest earners receive only about $2,000 annually. Teaching is a financial necessity for most musicians. 

Many Chinese orchestras are developing international connections while several major western orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, have signed cooperation agreements for ongoing touring in China. Tickets for a foreign orchestra's concerts in China are often sold out a year in advance. There are also several established music festivals in major centres: the Beijing International Music Festival, the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival, and the Macau International Music Festival.

Ms. Shan encouraged western musical organizations and musicians to consider "residential tours" for longer stays, which would facilitate integration and educational activities. The Lucerne Festival in China was cited as an example of a successful residency tour.

A session on "Classical in Korea" was unfortunately cancelled due to the untimely death of the presenter, Jooho Kim, from a heart attack just a few days before the Vienna conference. Jooho Kim was a well known figure in the performing arts world of South Korea. His most recent project is a 2,000-seat concert hall in Seoul: the Lotte Hall, due to open in September of 2015. Mr. Kim's family graciously forwarded his notes so that his message could be delivered to the attendees. 

Western classical music plays an important part in the cultural life of South Korea. Audiences are growing, as is the number of musicians being trained in classical music. The majority of audience members is young and passionate about this music. Visiting international musicians often remark on the enthusiastic responses of audiences. In Jooho Kim's words, "applause is much louder than in other countries".

There are currently 30 professional orchestras and 20 choirs, funded by tax payers, in South Korea. Superstar international artists are given an important place in the Korean market; this is in large part due to the economies of scale possible in promotion, marketing, and attracting sponsorship. Jooho Kim suggested that word of mouth marketing is still the biggest mode of marketing in Korea, which is enhanced by Koreans' high level of engagement with the internet and social media.

The flavour of the Classical:NEXT conference was very international and cosmopolitan, giving the attendees much to ponder at the global level as they explore new ways of bringing classical music to a wider public.

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