Off and Away - East Goes West
By Philippe Broad
PARIS, 13 AUGUST 1998 -
One hundred and three of Asia's most talented young students of
western classical music have come together as the Asian Youth
Orchestra for a tour of Europe's festivals this summer.
in age from fifteen to twenty-five years and drawn from ten countries,
many of the young musicians are away from home for the first time. "This
is the most exciting experience of my life," said Hsieh Chia
Ching, a female cellist from Taiwan during a half-day stopover in
Paris between San Sebastian, Spain and Amsterdam. "We are
studying western music but have no means of acquiring a greater
cultural understanding of this music through living in a western
environment. This should be a beginning."
The six-week, thirteen city, European tour which started in mid-July
in Sion, Switzerland includes prestigious venues such as Amsterdam's
Concertgebouw, the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Dresden's Lukaskirche
and the Berlin Konzerthaus, ending with the Musicali di Merano
festival in Italy. (See Concert Calendar for dates). There will also
be a radio broadcast with WDR3 in Cologne.
years ago, the AYO is the brain-child of U.S. citizen Richard
Pontzious, who has been resident in Asian countries for more than 30
Although there is a growing interest for western
classical music in Asia - as bourne out by the ever-increasing sales
of classical CDs - Pontzious claims that there are very few
western-style orchestras that live up to the name. "In some cases
there isn't the political will, and in most the problem is financial
as well. Western classical music simply is not a priority for a lot of
these developing countries."
Apart from Asian "stars"
who have a world-class career, there are insufficient musicians of
Asian origin to man professional orchestras in major Asian cities. In
Hong Kong's top orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Asians are
still the minority.
By uniting young musicians from all over
Asia once a year, Pontzious hopes, over time, to develop the interest
for playing western music in the different countries and to enrich the
existing talent base. A significant part of the experience has been to
overcome long-standing cultural rivalries between different national
groups, and to create personal bonding between musicians across Asia.
"Don't think it's like bringing together a group of musicians
from different European countries," says Pontzious. "Asia is
much more complicated. For the second year running now, we have had
the good fortune to include musicians from Vietnam. Before they
started, I had to tell them that they would have to be twice as good
as the others to be accepted as equals! It worked."
large part of Pontzious' year is taken up touring Asian capitals for
the gruelling auditions of some 1,500 to 2,000 students. Once the
final selections are made, successful candidates are sent copies of
the next season's musical programme to prepare.
After months of bureaucratic negotiations to obtain exit and entry
visas, the AYO comes together to live its bright, intense existence of
six weeks. The first two are spent in rehearsal camp - this year at
Sion in French-speaking Switzerland - with faculty members and
first-chair players of prominent musical institutions such as the
Julliard School, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Brussels' Monnaie Opera
among others. Then, the orchestra leaves on tour to gain the
experience of public performance.
Pontzious claims that
during its brief, annual existence, the orchestra is one of the finest
in Asia, and certainly there has been no lack of western or Asian star
soloists ready to play with it, including cellists Yo-Yo Ma, and
Mischa Maisky or pianists Alicia de Larrocha and Leon Fleisher, among
Roumanian conductor Sergiu Comissiona, former music
director of the Baltimore Symphony for seventeen years and currently
head of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Orquesta Sinfonica de
R.T.V.E. in Madrid, returns for his fifth tour with the AYO this
summer and since last year as principal conductor and music director.
The existence of AYO, not to mention the ambitious tours
made each year, would not be possible without the 1.5 million dollars
in sponsorship from corporate and private sources. Additional gifts
take the form of airline tickets, hotel accomodation, annual grants
for individual students or the purchase of the instrument they would
play once beyond the walls of their local conservatory. But the
interest goes beyond the sphere of Asia. The rather special welcome
given to the AYO by the festivals where they will play shows that in
Europe, too, there is an interest in developing a taste for western
music in the Far East.