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Issue 3 – Autumn 2018 www.askonasholt.co.uk

Long Yu Dispelling the myth of opposing musical ideologies

余隆 CHINA FOCUS 聚焦中国

Ziyu He 何子毓 Meet the young ChineseAustrian violinist

Xuefei Yang 杨雪霏 Chinese guitar pioneer

Asmik Grigorian “A Salome to end all Salomes”

PLUS

Alisa Weilerstein · New Signings · Nicholas Carter

On Tour 巡演 Working with China in two directions


The Green Room Guest editor Shiyi Wang 王诗艺 Contributors Kimon Daltas, Claire Jackson, Andrew Mellor, Lauren O’Brien, Sophie Rashbrook Design & editing Frances Innes-Hopkins Printed by Hill & Garwood Printing Limited Moor Park Industrial Centre Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 9ET

Contact us thegreenroom@askonasholt.co.uk The Green Room, Askonas Holt, 15 Fetter Lane, London EC4A 1BW

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Cover photograph Long Yu © Tang Hui studio 汤辉工作室

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EDITOR’S WELCOME

Welcome 欢迎

As a Chinese native now working in London, it is my great privilege to be guest editor for The Green Room’s very first China focus. In recent years, the rapid development of China’s economy and cultural market has attracted great attention from across the world: high-standard, professional and spectacular theatres can be found in each city, professional orchestras have been set up locally, world-renowned orchestras and top-level artists have visited China frequently… More and more, Chinese performing groups have been reinvented as cultural landmarks internationally, which serve as a symbol of increasing recognition of the Chinese cultural brand. SHIYI WANG 王诗艺 business development manager, china 商务拓展经理 (中国)

Shiyi joined Askonas Holt in 2017. She graduated with a Master’s Degree in Arts, Enterprise and Development from the University of Warwick and before moving to the UK, worked for China National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra as Head of Stage Management and Production. She previously studied Music, Arts Management at the Central Conservatory of Music. Her hobbies include playing Erhu (a traditional Chinese musical instrument), cooking and travelling. 2017年起入职于ASKONAS HOLT,同年获得英国华威大学 艺术企业与发展专业硕士学位。 曾就职于中国国家大剧院管弦乐 团,2010年毕业于中央音乐学院 艺术管理专业。自幼学习中国民族 乐器二胡演奏,热爱音乐、美食、 旅行等。

Within our China focus, Long Yu speaks to Sophie Rashbrook about the dramatic changes and vigorous vitality in China’s cultural industry, breaking down cultural boundaries and dispelling the myth of ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ music (p. 16), while Chinese classical guitar pioneer Xuefei Yang discusses her overseas learning and living experiences, the importance of commissioning new work and her pride in bringing Chinese music into her instrument’s repertoire (p. 26). Two recent signings complete our focus on Chinese artists: violinist Ziyu He talks to us about competitions, the balance between studying and performing, and the joy behind music (p. 10), plus we shine a spotlight on conductor Huang Yi (p. 13). Our Tours & Projects team has worked closely with Chinese presenters for many years, and Sergio Porto and Jonathan Fleming take a look back at how this came about, and at the value of a two-way relationship (p. 18). Plus, ahead of its debut performances in Shanghai, Aislinn Ryan gives us the lowdown on touring The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise (p. 14). Outside our theme, Adam Gatehouse, Co-Artistic Director of The Leeds International Piano Competition and AH Director Gaetan Le Divelec discuss the impact and significance of piano competitions on artistic careers, as we prepare to represent one of the three prize-winners of the 2018 competition (p. 22). Plus, Nicholas Carter begins his tenure in Klagenfurt (p. 9), and Asmik Grigorian, “a Salome to end all Salomes” (p. 12). Last but not least, Alisa Weilerstein talks about her new role as Artistic Partner with The Trondheim Soloists (p. 20). For me, it is great to see so many orchestras and artists travelling to China, and to see the beautiful Chinese cultural institutions becoming more and more popular internationally. I hope you agree!

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CONTENTS

IN THIS ISSUE

本期内容

3 EDITOR’S WELCOME 6 NEWS New signings, Samuel Dale Johnson, Daniel Harding, Kirsten MacKinnon, Matthew Rose, Ainars Rubikis & Virginie Verrez 9 SPOTLIGHT ON... Conductor Nicholas Carter 10 FOCUS INTERVIEW New signing violinist Ziyu He 12 SPOTLIGHT ON... Asmik Grigorian: “a Salome to end all Salomes” 13 FOCUS SPOTLIGHT ON... Chinese conductor Huang Yi 14 FOCUS THE DARK MIRROR: ZENDER’S WINTERREISE Reflections of touring this theatrical production 16 FOCUS COVER STORY Long Yu: breaking down cultural boundaries 19 MEET THE TEAM Artist Manager, Susie Murray 20 INTERVIEW Alisa Weilerstein, Artistic Partner in Trondheim 22 THE LEEDS INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION Adam Gatehouse & Gaetan Le Divelec in conversation 26 FOCUS INTERVIEW Chinese guitar pioneer Xuefei Yang 28 FOCUS TOURING IN MULTIPLE DIRECTIONS Askonas Holt & China: a 16-year history 30 ON TOUR

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CONTENTS

Photos, clockwise from top left: Asmik Grigorian © Algirdas Bakas. Alisa Weilerstein © Decca / Harald Hoffman. Ziyu He © Pia Clodi. Xuefei Yang © Neil Muir. Nicholas Carter © Annette Koroll. Matt Donnelly, Lana Jones and Lisa Bolte in The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet 2015 © Jeff Busby. Ian Bostridge in The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise © National Taichung Theater. Leeds Town Hall, Leeds International Piano Competition © Simon Wilkinson. Long Yu © Luo Wei. Huang Yi © Lewei Li.

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NEWS HEADLINES

News

Daniel Harding named Artistic Director of Pisa’s Anima Mundi Festival On 25 July, at a press conference in the Italian city, it was announced that Daniel Harding has been named Artistic Director of the Anima Mundi Festival in Pisa, taking over from Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who held the position for 12 years. At the press conference, Daniel presented the 2018 edition alongside the festival’s president Pierfrancesco Pacini. At this year’s festival, Daniel celebrated the 900th anniversary of Pisa Cathedral, conducting Bruckner’s sacred Symphony No. 5 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra on tour on 15 September 2018. Daniel told us: “I am thrilled to become Artistic Director of the Anima Mundi Festival. The team of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Guido Corti have created a fabulous and stimulating festival over the last 12 years. It’s an honour and a beautiful challenge to continue this work; celebrating the 900th anniversary of the consecration of Cathedral of Pisa to Santa Maria Assunta with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra was a particularly special moment. I am very much looking forward to working with the festival over the years to come!” www.opapisa.it/en/events/animamundi/

© Lena Kern

新闻报道 Matthew Rose appointed Artistic Consultant to the Lindemann Young Artist Development Programme Matthew Rose will work alongside Sophie Joyce, the programme’s new Director, to coach the latest intake of young artists on this world-renowned programme. Speaking to the Met for their press release, Matthew said: “as a student studying singing in Philadelphia, I was able to attend opera performances at the Met, introducing me to great opera, great singing, and great orchestral playing. So it is with much joy that I take on this position with the Lindemann Young Artist Development programme. Enabling the next generation of singers is very important to me and to do it at the world’s leading opera house is an honour beyond measure.”

Daniel at the press conference in Pisa © Massimo Giannelli

Beginning his tenure in the 2018/19 season, Matthew will work with young artists in one-to-one coaching sessions and masterclasses throughout the year. He will work on the Lindemann Programme alongside a host of international engagements across the US and Europe. A regular on stage at the Met, Matthew can next be seen as Colline in La bohème and Ashby in La Fanciulla del West. www.metopera.org

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NEWS HEADLINES

New signings We are delighted to welcome four exceptionally talented musicians to our roster for general management. Read more about each artist at askonasholt.co.uk

Michele Angelini Ziyu He

Misha Kiria

Cynthia Millar

TENOR

VIOLIN

BARITONE

ONDES MARTENOT

Italian-American tenor Michele Angelini broke onto the European stage at the Rossini Opera Festival in 2006 as Count Libenskof in Il viaggio a Reims, and shortly after created the role of Hänschen Rilow in the world premiere of Benoit Mernier’s Frühlings Erwachen at La Monnaie, Brussels.

“[He] lets the artful dissonance flare perfectly, excels in trill figures, performs dance-like moments with airy elegance and allows the delicate phrases to melt away in a whisper” – Kronen Zeitung Gesamt re: Bartók Concerto No. 2, Wiener Philharmoniker

“Kiria was a terrific Dulcamara, mixing clean articulation with a bright, lively baritone” – Hugo Shirley re: L’elisir d’amour, Deutsche Oper Berlin

This summer, his debut performances at the Edinburgh International Festival as Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia were met with high praise:

In 2017, Chinese-Austrian violinist Ziyu He became one of the youngest soloists to make his debut with the Wiener Philharmoniker under Adam Fischer at the Musikverein, aged just 18. In 2016, Ziyu He won both the International Mozart Competition in Salzburg and the Yehudi Menhuin Competition, and was the Eurovision Young Musician of the Year in 2014. Performances this season include with Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra Della Toscana and Singapore Symphony, as well as with his trio, Altenberg Trio Wien.

Described by The Observer as the “unchallenged sovereign of the Ondes Martenot,” Cynthia’s most recent performances include concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Singapore Symphony, Orchestre de Paris and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms.

“Not only is Michele Angelini’s voice technically astonishing, with breath control that can induce its own sharp intakes of breath from the audience, but also his Almaviva is spritely and cheerful, and a warm central character.” – Tim Bano, The Stage Represented by Mark Hildrew, Paul Meyer zu Schwabedissen & Jessica Wadey in Europe (excluding Italy) alongside his general management Étude Arts

Represented by Olivia Lyndon-Jones & Fiona Russell

Georgian baritone Misha Kiria graduated from the Tbilisi State Conservatory in 2010, and studied at the La Scala Academy from 2011-13. His roles at La Scala have included Don Magnifico (La cenerentola) and Blansac (La scala di seta). During the 2018/19 season, he will return to Deutsche Oper Berlin as Sancho Pansa in a new production of Don Quixote, and Dutch National Opera as Bartolo in a new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia, plus make his debut at the Bolshoi Theatre as Lord Sidney in Il viaggio a Reims. Next season he makes his debut with Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Represented by Mark Hildrew, Paul Meyer zu Schwabedissen & Jessica Wadey

Cynthia premiered the Ondes Martenot part specially written for her by Thomas Adès in The Exterminating Angel at the Salzburg Festival in 2016, and has since performed it at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Danish Opera. Her 2018/19 season includes returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and NHK Symphony Orchestra. Represented by Rachel Bertaut

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NEWS HEADLINES

Ainars at the signing of his contract in May 2017 with Dr. Klaus Lederer, Berlin Minister for Culture and Europe and Chairman of the Foundation Oper in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Komische Oper Berlin.

Ainars Rubikis begins his tenure as Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin Ainars Rubikis begins his tenure as Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin this September, following highly successful performances of The Nose with the house over the summer.

New ensemble members: Samuel Dale Johnson, Kirsten MacKinnon & Virginie Verrez

At the time of the announcement, Ainars spoke about what his role as Music Director means: “Taking on the position of Music Director of the Komische Oper Berlin also means to me to manage the entire theatre collectively, and being held responsible for it, the joining together of the soloists, orchestra musicians, choral singers, stage workers, seamstresses, decorators, ticket vendors, to work together for all those who care about the theatre.

Three young singers join ensembles at leading opera houses this September: Samuel at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Kirsten at Oper Frankfurt, and Virginie at Wiener Staatsoper. Samuel, a former Jette Parker Young Artist, will perform no less than nine roles in Berlin this season, including: Title role Don Giovanni, Figaro Il barbiere di Siviglia, Escamillo Carmen, Matthieu André Chénier and Dr. Falke Die Fledermaus.

“It should be a cooperative effort towards a common purpose – to create a miracle for everyone including the audience. But not only this. The main joy for me is that I will meet a new creative family, where we will stand and fall together – heal heartaches and celebrate the successes together. In short, to be together in the joys and sorrows.”

Following her acclaimed house debut as Inès L’Africaine earlier this year, Kirsten will take to the Oper Frankfurt stage as First Lady Die Zauberflöte, Gräfin Madeleine Capriccio, Micaëla Carmen and Countess Le nozze di Figaro.

This season, Ainars will conduct six productions at the house: Die Tote Stadt, Die Zauberflöte, The Love for Three Oranges, Cendrillon, Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder and Der Rosenkavalier.

Virginie, fresh from her Glyndebourne debut as Erika Vanessa, will appear in Vienna as Zerlina Don Giovanni, Mercedes Carmen, Lola Cavalleria Rusticana, Cherubino Le nozze di Figaro, Idamante Idomeneo and Second Lady Die Zauberflöte.

www.komische-oper-berlin.de Read more news stories on our website: www.askonasholt. co.uk/news

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Samuel Dale Johnson © Inna Kostukovsky Kirsten MacKinnon © Jiacheng Xiong Virginie Verrez © Dario Acosta

deutscheoperberlin.de | operfrankfurt.de | wiener-staatsoper.at


SPOTLIGHT ON...

Nicholas Carter © Simon Pauly

“It’s a huge thrill to take up this position in Klagenfurt; a truly magical part of the world” says Nicholas Carter as he looks ahead to the beginning of his tenure as Chefdirigent of Stadttheater Klagenfurt and the Kärntnersinfonieorchester this September. “To work with a dedicated team and group of musicians on such great productions is as rewarding as it gets.”

Stadttheater Klagenfurt © Helge Bauer

“To work with a dedicated team and group of musicians on such great productions is as rewarding as it gets.”

In his first season, Nicholas will lead productions of Rusalka, Pelléas et Mélisande and La Clemenza di Tito. “Three pieces that will showcase the wonderful spirit of this company,” he says. In addition to the three opera productions, Nicholas will lead his Kärntnersinfonieorchester in concert performances of Wagner, Ravel, Mahler, Rachmaninov and Debussy, with soloists including Golda Schultz and Ingold Wunder. At just 29, Nicholas was the first Australian to be appointed to one of the six major state orchestras in

nearly 30 years, becoming Principal Conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, a position he holds until the end of calendar year 2019. Earlier this year Nicholas conducted the orchestra in Brett Dean’s Hamlet in a hugely successful run of performances at the Adelaide Festival. An accomplished opera interpreter, Nicholas was Kapellmeister and musical assistant to Donald Runnicles at the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 2014-16, and has since led numerous productions there – The Love for Three Oranges, Le nozze di Figaro and La bohème in the 2017/18 season alone. He made his US opera debut last season, conducting Die Fledermaus in Santa Fe to open the festival’s 61st season. One reviewer said, “[Nicholas] was largely responsible for the evening’s musical success. In his American opera debut, Carter navigated the daunting twists and turns of this complex score, with just the right exaggerations of tempo and rubato.” theclassicalreview.com, August 2017 


INTERVIEW: ZIYU HE

Violin magic 提琴魔力

Violinist and new signing Ziyu He talks to us about competitions, the balance between studying and performing, and the joy behind music

Chinese-Austrian violinist Ziyu He was born in the famous beer city of Qingdao, China in 1999. He started learning the violin at the age of five and following a meeting with Professor Paul Roczek in 2010 he was invited to study at the University Mozarteum and has, for the last seven years, been living and studying in Salzburg. He grew up in a music-loving family, and knew he wanted to play the violin when he heard the Wiener Philharmoniker for the first time: “I just thought that the violin has a really magic sound; very unique, very beautiful.” Fast-forward to today, and he’s one of the youngest soloists to have made his debut with that very orchestra, with conductor Ádám Fischer in 2017.

 Video: watch our full interview with Ziyu He online, at askonasholt.co.uk or on YouTube

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Ziyu He performing at Southbank Centre, 2016 Menuhin competition

INTERVIEW: ZIYU HE

ON THE SPOT: QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS Favourite food? Over the past few years, Ziyu has won several prestigious competitions: the Eurovision Young Musician in Cologne (2014), and the 12th International Mozart Competition in Salzburg and Menuhin Competition in London (both in 2016). As well as first prize at the Menuhin Competition, he received the Composer Award (for the best performance of the Roxanna Panufnik’s competition commission, Hora Bessarabia), the Mozart prize and the Bach prize. He is of course thrilled to have won these competitions, and for the opportunities that they have afforded him, but stresses that winning was not the only element for him. “The most important thing is not just to win, it’s to enjoy the music, and to get that experience of standing on the stage and performing to the audience.” This theme comes up several times during our conversation, and it’s clear that Ziyu feels strongly that music should be enjoyed. “It’s about passion and joy, and having fun with it,” though continues to say that nothing can take the place of persistence, which he explains as “being happy in your work, but also being hungry for more progress and knowledge.” Still only 19, Ziyu is about to embark

Left: ©Pia Clodi

on his master’s degree at Mozarteum University Salzburg (whose notable alumni include Barbara Bonney, Angelika Kirchschlager, Herbert von Karajan, Christiane Karg, Igor Levit, Nils Mönkemeyer, Thomas Zehetmair and Tabea Zimmermann), where he also studies conducting and the viola. Yet there’s no struggle to balance his studies against his already busy performing schedule; “I think I need both,” he says, “and to perform on the stage is kind of studying – you can learn a lot.” And if he weren’t a violinist? “I’d love to be a conductor… but maybe also a stone collector” he laughs, “I like digging and to collect fossils.”  Selected 2018/19 performances • Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Zhang Liang • Performances with the Altenberg Trio Wien at the Musikverein • Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Orchestra Della Toscana and conductor Kerem Hasan • Chamber music performances at Musikverein Graz • Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Choo Hoey

Spanish, Italian and Chinese Favourite city? I think where I’m living right now: Salzburg. And my home town of course! First record you ever bought? I can’t really remember… Maybe Mozart operas Favourite book? Sophie’s World How do you relax when not working? Sleeping! I also love to do sports – I swim – and to spend a lot of time in nature Three things you couldn’t live without Food, family and music Favourite concert hall? There are so many amazing concert halls, but one of my favourite houses is the Musikverein, the Golden Hall Favourite place to go on holiday? Probably Spain or Italy, maybe Majorca

This is an edited version of a longer video interview. Watch the full interview at askonasholt.co.uk or on YouTube.

Autumn 2018 The Green Room 11


SPOTLIGHT ON...

Asmik Grigorian “[she] must have appeared to Richard Strauss in his dreams when he once designed his world-wide success.”

“Hers is a Salome to end all Salomes” wrote Shirley Apthorp in the Financial Times when reviewing Asmik Grigorian’s performance of Salome at the Salzburg Festival, continuing, “She stands, a slight figure in a white dress, alone on the vast, empty stage, and the entire audience breathes with her.” Following her debut in 2017, Asmik returned to the festival to make her debut in the title role of Strauss’ intense psychological opera, and her performance drew unanimous praise from critics across the world. “You become witness to one of those very rare, and high-risk, moments, in which a singer totally merges with her role, surrenders to self-abandonment and still retains control.” Manuel Brug, Welt.de, July 2018 (translated) Suggesting that she must have appeared to Strauss in his dreams when writing his opera, Markus Thiel called Asmik an “especially ideal” Salome, with “fragility, unconditionality, a harsh, borderline beauty … a sheer superhuman will of creativity.” Markus Thiel, Merkur, July 2018 (translated) The Lithuanian winner of the 2016

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International Opera Awards Young Singer Award is rightly making her mark on the industry, and will this season debut at Teatro alla Scala Milan as Marietta in Korngold’s Die Tode Stadt, and at Oper Frankfurt, singing the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. We caught up with Asmik following her great success in Salzburg... Congratulations on your recent success in Salzburg – how did you feel on stage as Salome? Thank you very much! On stage I feel like Salome: lost, scared, broken, in love, happy (for a few seconds!), angry, and extremely sad. How do you prepare for taking on a new role? Learning text, working with coaches; vocal coach, language coach. Listening to recordings, though not too much! Then, in the last six weeks, I start to become the role which I prepared. You sing quite a range of repertoire – in the past year alone, you’ve performed Berg, Strauss, Rubinstein, Puccini, Prokofiev – do you have a favourite? It’s difficult to say… I’ve always said I never knew how to act, so I always

become a role. Every time. Which means that all of my roles are a very big part of me. Of course, some I like more, some of them less, but they are all me. There are a couple of roles which perhaps carry a slightly different level of emotion for me: Butterfly and Norma. I saw my parents singing them together when I was a child, so it’s something more than a role. Are there any other roles that are on your to-do list? Apart from all my upcoming roles, I’m dreaming to do Norma, Adriana, Katerina Izmailova, Forza, Don Carlos… I’m working a lot on vocal technique at the moment, so am trying to keep as much Italian repertoire as possible. I also have around 60 roles which I’ve done already, and I would love to work on the quality of them. You come from a musical family [Asmik is the daughter of the Armenian tenor Gegham Grigoryan and the Lithuanian soprano Irena Milkevičiūtė] – was opera always the dream? No. Opera was always the life! 

© Algirdas Bakas


SPOTLIGHT ON...

Huang Yi 黄屹

ON THE SPOT: QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS How do you relax when not working? I like to do sports, like tennis, badminton, swimming… Where did it all begin? Why music

31-year-old Huang Yi – Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Kunming Nie’er Symphony Orchestra, and Assistant Conductor of the China Philharmonic Orchestra – is one of the brightest young conductors in China.

major Chinese orchestras, Huang will make his Hong Kong Philharmonic debut this September, conducting an all-Chinese programme to celebrate Hong Kong’s National Day (Austin Yip, He Zhanhao & Chen Gang, and Ding Shande).

Hand-picked by Seiji Ozawa to be his musical assistant in 2009, before he had completed his studies at China’s Central Conservatory of Music and the Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler” Berlin, Huang has already racked up many high-profile performances in China and beyond.

No stranger to interesting repertoire, Huang conducted the world premiere of Andy Akiho’s innovative ping pong concerto Ricochet with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra at the 2015 Beijing Music Festival & MISA Festival, receiving a five-star review from The Financial Times.

In 2012, under the advisement of Maestro Long Yu, Huang made his opera debut conducting Jin Xiang’s Chinese-language opera The Savage Land with the China Philharmonic Orchestra. His opera work since has included assisting Christian Thielemann in a co-production between the Beijing Music Festival and the Salzburg Easter Festival of Wagner’s Parsifal. For the opera’s premiere performance in China, Huang assisted conductor and Wagner-specialist Gustav Kuhn. A regular guest conductor with all the

Later this autumn, he will bring a rare multimedia treat to audiences at the 2018 Beijing Music Festival: Bernstein’s West Side Story performed live by the China Philharmonic Orchestra in sync with the famous MGM movie. Outside his native China, Huang has worked with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra, and the Brandenburg Symphony Orchestra, with several debuts to come in future seasons. 

I was born into a musical family, and I started to study music because my father is a very famous Chinese instrument professor First record you ever bought? A James Galway CD, because at the time I was a flute player Favourite city? Berlin. I studied there for more than four years; it’s like my second home Favourite food? It’s really hard to say because I love to eat all kinds of food! Last thing you listened to? Mahler’s Das lied von der Erde – I was just rehearsing the piece today What do you love most about your career? I love that I get to go to different orchestras in different places; sharing music with people all over the world Three things you couldn’t live without. Music, car and food

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THE DARK MIRROR: ZENDER’S WINTERREISE

Touring the theatrical 剧目巡演

Projections, sandpaper, wigs and abseiling: Project Manager Aislinn Ryan gives us the lowdown on touring a theatrical production

© National Taichung Theater

“It’s been an interesting and really valuable journey for us,” Project Manager Aislinn Ryan says as we sit down to talk about touring The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise. Directed by Netia Jones and with Ian Bostridge as the work’s protagonist, this theatrical production integrates film, projections and traditional design with Hans Zender’s 1993 ‘composed interpretation’ of Schubert’s song cycle. Since its premiere at the Barbican, London in May 2016, The Dark Mirror has toured to Taiwan, Australia, and the US, and this September it travels to Shanghai for two final performances at the Shanghai Grand Theatre.

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How did it all come about? “Netia and Ian had worked together previously on her production of Curlew River, which Askonas Holt had toured to the US in 2014,” Aislinn recalls. “Following the success of Curlew River, Netia and Ian wanted to create something new together and, as Ian is the work’s most iconic living interpreter, Winterreise seemed like an obvious choice. Because Askonas Holt had been involved with Curlew River, and we represent Ian, it seemed like a natural fit for us to be involved if the production were to tour.” With a 24-piece chamber orchestra, complete with several unusual

instruments (including wind machines, melodicas and sandpaper blocks), a large set and countless technical elements, it could have been quite a daunting project for the Askonas Holt team. “This multifaceted project is highly technical and had been created specifically for the Barbican stage, so we then had to figure out how to transfer it to a brand new venue in Taichung that no-one had previously visited.” As with any touring project, different venues and different cities can pose certain challenges. Add to that working with a different orchestra in each venue (Britten Sinfonia in London, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra in Taichung, International Contemporary Ensemble in New York, West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Perth and Shanghai Opera Symphony Orchestra for this year’s performances), and travelling with a large set, and this project certainly sounds on the more challenging end of the spectrum. “Even though it looks like quite a simple production, it takes four days to build the set,” Aislinn says, “and even though Ian’s the only performer, you’ve got


© National Taichung Theater

Poster for performances in Shanghai

THE DARK MIRROR: ZENDER’S WINTERREISE

the orchestra involved, a touring production team of ten people; and at least twice as many local crew to coordinate.” Naturally, when Netia first designed the production, she did so with the Barbican Theatre stage in mind: a 16-metre slanted ramp extends right from one side of the stage to the other, reaching a top height of three metres, behind which sits a gigantic screen for the projections. In Taichung, the stage was much smaller than in London, so the orchestra – who in London were positioned stage right – were moved to a raised orchestra pit in the centre of the production, changing the overall aesthetic as well as the practicalities of communication between Ian and the conductor. In Perth, the production was mounted in a concert hall and not a theatre, which required certain additional preparations: “We had to create a fake proscenium, and they had balconies all the way round which had to be blacked out. They even had to get some professional abseilers in to help secure the set!” Taichung had the additional challenge of a language barrier. One of the many integral parts of the design were the surtitles, embedded into the projections and carefully designed with a unique font. But in English.

Not to mention the language barrier on the ground, between the touring crew and the venue’s local crew. “We had to have the surtitles translated into Mandarin and Netia meticulously crafted these into the design. And the touring party had to come up with their own little language and key words to communicate with the Taiwanese crew.” The orchestra itself is also very much part of the production: “You get this whole post-Weimar period vibe from the production” says Aislinn. “Netia had the orchestra in 1930s-style wigs, costumes and make up, they’re sat on 1930s bentwood chairs, and they were very much an integral part of the performance, which is a very different approach for a symphony orchestra!” But cultural differences and the fact the tour was using local orchestras in each city meant the costumes had to change in Taichung: “we brought with us brunette wigs, which wouldn’t necessarily work for the Asian players. So, Taichung had to invest in their own wigs, reminiscent of 1930s Asian style. They looked amazing, and really took that whole element of the production seriously.” Ian – who is widely thought to be the greatest living interpreter of Schubert’s Winterreise and whose book on the work has been translated into 12 languages and

won numerous awards – described Netia’s production as “not an avant garde assault or a confection of rebarbative modernism” in an article for The Guardian. “Rather it is a work that offers us a conversation – and sometimes a confrontation – between the past and the present.” How would Aislinn describe the work? “It’s an amazing piece. There are so many facets to it that it cuts across various genres – multimedia, theatre and opera. It’s a truly unique production. And Ian’s performance is riveting. It’s dark, bleak and unsettling, but utterly brilliant. For audience members it’s a completely different experience from attending a recital performance of Schubert’s Winterreise. And, for me, overseeing the international touring of this piece has been an incredible experience.” Coming back to the impact of the project on the Askonas Holt team, Aislinn says, “It’s given us a good grounding for all of our work with special projects – such as Joyce DiDonato’s In War & Peace, Magdalena Kožená’s flamenco tour – and means the team is really starting to get used to doing a wider variety of things, rather than just standard orchestral or classical ballet touring. It’s added another string to our bow in terms of what’s achievable on tour.” 

Autumn 2018 The Green Room 15


INTERVIEW: LONG YU

Dispelling the myth

消解东西方之迷思 Long Yu speaks to Sophie Rashbrook about breaking down cultural boundaries and dispelling the myth of ‘East’ vs ‘West’ Long Yu is a conductor on a mission to break down cultural boundaries; a fact that is all the more remarkable, given his childhood experience of classical music. Born in Shanghai in 1964, his formative years were spent during one of the most tumultuous episodes in China’s recent history: “I belong to a very special generation that grew up during the Cultural Revolution. Officially, we were not allowed to perform or listen to Western music, and as a classical music student, I had quite a hard time. But when classical music was opened up to China again, it was quite amazing.” When talking to Yu, his optimism and enthusiasm for the art form shine through. Raised in a musical family, he undertook his musical studies in China and Germany, and is keen to dispel myths of opposing musical ideologies. “It sounds very sexy to talk about ‘East’ and ‘West’ today, but to me, music is music, and I don’t feel it is necessary to divide it into ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’. I don’t think that I have different feelings in my heart, just because of where I’m from.

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In the same way, I don’t think I understand Mahler or Beethoven in an ‘Eastern’ way – maybe I interpret it in a particular way because of my personal experience – but not because I’m Chinese.” This belief in the universality of classical music is a hallmark of Yu’s approach, both as a musician and cultural leader. As Artistic Director of the Beijing Music Festival from 19982018, he launched ground-breaking collaborations with the Lucerne, Salzburg and Edinburgh festivals, bringing international orchestras to Chinese audiences. Yu has performed across the world with superstar pianist Lang Lang, and has also been a major player in the development and promotion of his country’s classical music reputation through his work on the national and world stage. Despite the relatively recent expansion of the genre over the last 20 years, classical repertoire is far from a new phenomenon to Chinese audiences. Speaking of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra – one of no fewer than seven Chinese orchestras

or institutions under Yu’s leadership – he notes, “The SSO is now in its 140th year, making it not only one of the oldest orchestras in China, but also one of the oldest in the world.” If we add to that statistic the proliferation of provincial orchestras (of which, Yu tells me, there are over 80), and the boom in music education (China accounts for some 80% of global piano sales), it is not hard to understand why so many overseas management agencies, orchestras and conservatoires have caught on, and are eager to tap into the Chinese market. Yu is pragmatic about the reasons for the rapid increase in public interest over the past two decades: “We have a lot of people in China, and the market is so much bigger than in Europe. Beijing is a city of 20 million people, and we have other cities that are almost as big – Guangzhou, Shanghai, and others. If just 1% of our population starts to get curious about this kind of music, we fill our concert halls!” Yu is cautious when I ask him whether there is anything


INTERVIEW: LONG YU

that Western music organisations can learn from this burgeoning Chinese scene. “Our country has developed so quickly over the last 30 years that we are still learning how best to develop the [professional music-making] system. There are many things that don’t function well in China, and so I’m not saying this to be polite – but I would say it is the other way around. But we are getting there.” Rather than focusing the differences between the Chinese and Western classical music, Yu prefers to find common ground, emphasising the importance of enabling children to learn an instrument for the best reasons. “Across the world, I’m not sure that we always get the motivation right. It shouldn’t be about creating the next big star, or getting extra points when you apply to University. Whether you become a musician or not, it is a wonderful thing. You can’t see it or touch it – but by learning to play classical music, you release the imagination. Creativity comes from imagination, and by going to concerts and giving children this experience, you train them to face competition later in life.” I ask if he believes that classical music can have a positive impact on a child’s life, even if they don’t pursue a musical career. “That is the best way! Musicians have a long, long journey, and they deserve a lot of respect for what they do.” Yu pauses before adding, “I think that classical music can have a great influence on young people.”

“It sounds very sexy to talk about ‘East’ and ‘West’ today, but to me, music is music, and I don’t feel it is necessary to divide it into ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’.”

From the future of the industry, then, to Yu’s forthcoming adventures. In bidding farewell to his role at the Beijing Music Festival, a new door has opened, in the form of an exclusive contract between the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the prestigious label, Deutsche Grammophon. His delight is palpable. “It is a great honour and a pleasure to be a DG artist. The label is a symbol of such high quality, and it is a real moment of professional recognition for the SSO, which is turning into one of the leading orchestras in the world. ”Their first recording (due next year) will consist of a combination of Russian and Chinese repertoire – a natural affinity, says Yu, owing to common cultural histories between the two nations. Listeners will experience Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances from 1940 alongside the premiere recording of Qigang Chen’s violin concerto, La joie de la souffrance, played by Maxim Vengerov. The concerto is based on an ancient melody from the Tang dynasty, which the composer uses to explore the relationship between joy and suffering. According to Chen, these opposing forces are, to echo Yu’s views on cultural unity, “a matter of ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’, inseparable and hence all things should contain both. Like loss and gain, they are bound to balance out.” Yu remarks that the poignant text of Gustav Mahler’s orchestral

song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) also dates from the Tang dynasty. “Of course, the text from those poems was translated into English and then into German,” Yu explains, “but Mahler was responding to the words of ancient Chinese poetry through his own musical language.” In April this year, Yu programmed a concert with the Hong Kong Symphony Orchestra, in which Mahler’s Lied was performed alongside a new setting of the same thousand-year old poems by Chinese composer Ye Xiaogong – in their original language. Yu’s aim in doing this was not to create an opposition between the two cultures, but rather, to put them “in conversation with each other.” And did it work? “It was a big success! The audience immediately understood that they were just different reflections on the same words. It was really interesting for them. As musicians, we are lucky to use a language through which you can share your happiness, pain, love, hate, all your feelings – it’s a gift sent by God, really.” With such an optimistic ambassador for classical music, the future looks bright - East, West, and beyond.  Sophie Rashbrook is a presenter, writer and translator, specialising in opera, classical music and cross-arts collaborations. She was Dramaturg at Welsh National Opera from 2013-2016

Autumn 2018 The Green Room 17


TOURING IN CHINA

Touring in two directions “Askonas Holt’s first working visit to mainland China took place in the winter of 2002,” Senior Project Manager Jonathan Fleming recalls. He made the journey to Shanghai and Beijing with Martin Campbell-White, then Joint Chief Executive, and Vicky Lau, Project Administrator, where they visited a number of venues that were stirring international interest. Some of these were already well established, in particular the Shanghai Grand Theatre, but others looked very different to the gleaming edifices that we know today. “It’s curious looking back on that trip, and the fact that we toured Shanghai Oriental Arts Center and Beijing’s National Centre for Performing Arts when they were almost unrecognisable: essentially just big holes in the ground. And yet some hugely important relationships began on that trip and flourish to this day”, Jonathan says. “To have been there at that time was a stroke of genius or luck, or both.” Although Askonas Holt had already acquired extensive experience working in both Japan and Hong Kong – indeed one of the key figures

in its history, Sir Ian Hunter, founded the Hong Kong Arts Festival in the early 1970s – mainland China was uncharted territory. Three short years later, in 2005, Askonas Holt would bring the Berliner Philharmoniker to Beijing and Shanghai, marking the company’s first full tour of the country. Did the orchestra need much persuasion? “The Berliner Philharmoniker have always been an intrepid orchestra. I think a lot of players were curious about going to China: breaking new ground and meeting new audiences.” And many ensembles have since followed a similar path: of the 250 performances in 33 different countries the Tours team facilitated in 2017, more than 10% were in mainland China. Yet bringing top-class international orchestras and dance companies to China was never the exclusive aim for Askonas Holt: “One of the things that we wanted to achieve was to establish from the outset a twoway interaction with China, taking our most prestigious projects to these fantastic new venues, but also committing to bringing high-quality

Poster from Beijing Opera’s 2005 tour of the UK

From building site to major classical music hub: Lauren O’Brien looks back at Askonas Holt’s long relationship with mainland China

Programme from Berliner Philharmoniker’s 2005 Asia tour

双向巡演


TOURING IN CHINA

“We were never simply there to sell tours. We were there to establish working relationships and demonstrate our interest and sincerity about working with China.” ensembles in the other direction.” And thus 2005 also saw Askonas Holt bring the National Beijing Opera Company of China to the UK. “It was the first time a full-scale Peking opera tour had happened in this country,” says Jonathan, “not only visiting London but also Manchester and Edinburgh. We were bringing something artistically very important from Asia to Europe, and that is something we are determined to continue into the future.” Most recently, Askonas Holt has organised international tours for the China National Centre for Performing Arts Orchestra, the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra of China, and the Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Chorus.

Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Chorus performing at Southbank Centre

Sergio Porto Bargiela, Head of Tours & Projects at Askonas Holt, explained the importance of this relationship with China and the growth the country has seen over the past decade or so: “As part of the ethos of the company we are always looking at exciting territories that are developing, and China has become one of the major countries in the world. That growth economically,

socially, politically, has come handin-hand with development in other areas and one of those has been culture. There has been an increase in curiosity from them about our music, our culture and equally from Europe and the rest of the world about their own culture, so from our point of view we are very lucky and in an excellent position to bridge and facilitate those interests.” It’s now 15 years since Askonas Holt’s first visit to the country, and a lot can change in such a period. “Since that time our work in China has grown almost exponentially,” Jonathan says. “And the thing now manifesting itself clearly is the opening of world-class performance facilities in many of China’s second and third tier cities. We find that our clients are very open and willing to perform for audiences in those cities, as well as returning to the major centres. There is definitely a receptiveness to the notion of going to unfamiliar places.” Sergio agrees, adding, “I think even ten years ago it was still a relatively unknown idea for international companies or big orchestras to go to China. It is not anymore.”

The audience, too, has changed. “In China, audiences cover every age group, and it’s exhilarating for artists to encounter so many young people who are passionate about experiencing the performing arts,” Jonathan says. “As we know, there is a huge upsurge in music education in the country, and outreach events on tour – such as workshops and post-show Q&As – also illustrate this tremendous appetite.” Sergio echoes Jonathan’s thoughts, saying, “I think it is the way they listen, their interest, their curiosity, the openness about programmes, about repertoire, about different styles. They are a very intelligent audience and they know what they want more and more.“ There is of course some variation in working practices between East and West. Does Sergio note any in particular? “I think the main difference is that these institutions often have different structures and processes to those we are used to in the West, and one needs to understand and respect that fact. You also need to make your touring partners aware of the differences, so they understand what it is that they should expect when considering the possibility of going to China.” Finding common ground, and a way to work harmoniously together, is an ethos rooted deep within Askonas Holt. Jonathan’s concluding thoughts return to the impetus for that first visit in 2002. “We were never simply there to sell tours. We were there to establish working relationships and demonstrate our interest and sincerity about working with China. Everything we have done since then has had same intention. What we enjoy is building really strong partnerships, where we listen as much as we talk.”  Lauren O’Brien is Reception & Marketing Assistant at Askonas Holt, having recently graduated with a BA in Music from the University of Birmingham

Autumn 2018 The Green Room 19


INTERVIEW: ALISA WEILERSTEIN

Follow the leader Andrew Mellor caught up with Alisa Weilerstein in the Norwegian city of Trondheim, where she recently took up the position of Artistic Partner at The Trondheim Soloists

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INTERVIEW: ALISA WEILERSTEIN

I wound up coming here quite by accident in 2012 and fell in love with the place immediately. I saw these wild untamed landscapes and thought wow: I have to come back here! And now you are Artistic Partner at The Trondheim Soloists… Yes! Another thing unique about Norway is how much musicians here like to rehearse and explore new ideas. I’ve suggested a whole gamut of strange repertoire for my new role and the response has been “great, sounds interesting” as opposed to “I don’t know if it will fit in.” Some of the most progressive programming comes from Norway and I think I’ve done some of my very best music making here. How has it been, getting to know the orchestra? I spent a couple of days playing with the orchestra in September 2017. We worked six hours each day on both the Haydn concertos and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and with no end goal other than feeling each other out. I never get that kind of opportunity. On the new recording you direct those pieces but also play ‘tutti’ cello in the Schoenberg. How long is it since you played in a string section? This is probably the first time since youth orchestra! It feels wonderful. I would never want to be a member of an orchestra because I feel liberated doing what I’m doing as a soloist and as a chamber musician. But the truth is that I miss the repertoire. Of course my sound needs to blend but I also need to lead; so I’m not entirely blending, I’m shaping. I really like that dual role. TTS has a long tradition of being led from the first cello’s chair… I had never heard of such a thing before. When my manager rang me

to talk about this role with TTS, I said “they do know I play the cello, right?” Of course I think the cello is the most expressive instrument but there are definite limitations to playing it. In a sense, you can express a bigger range of emotions with your body if you’re holding a violin, and in so much music the line is in the treble register. But in a piece like Verklärte Nacht the cello is an equal to the first violin. It’s a natural fit. You are so effective in masterclasses (I looked on YouTube!) – did you feel yourself moving in the direction of leadership and instructing? It’s definitely something you grow into. Rehearsing chamber ensembles was something I felt naturally comfortable with and which ran in my family. But you have to have willing partners, and Geir Inge [Lotsberg, TTS Artistic Director] is an incredible one. It’s like playing tennis, not darts. Is there a golden rule for communicating musical ideas to an ensemble? In a general sense, showing how you feel rhythm unifies an ensemble. You have to really feel the rhythm in the gut. This is something great conductors do: so that with one gesture, you know exactly where they want the sound to come from. I’ve also been trying to get better at verbalising the kind of sound I’m after, especially in music as emotionally fraught and varied as Verklärte Nacht. It used to be quite hard for me to verbalise those things.

Back to the album. It has some personal significance for you… Initially the idea was simply to put the First and Second Viennese Schools together. But I’ve also been reading quite a lot about Schoenberg and his admiration for Haydn. Schoenberg once said ‘play my music like it’s Haydn’ – he really longed for his music to be enjoyed. The other element is my own conflicted relationship with Vienna. I come from a Jewish family and my grandparents from my mother’s side had to flee Vienna in 1938. So I grew up hating Vienna, the whole idea of it – this home of incredible bigotry that was also the gateway to Europe and such an important city culturally. In a way, it’s been quite an emotional thing to do. But it’s also a celebration: our first album together for Pentatone and a strong statement for me as soloist and director. What else will you be doing in Trondheim? We will do several tours following the release of the recording: a Scandinavia tour this Autumn, a European tour and we’re working on an American tour as well. I can’t say much but I want to expand the repertoire we do as much as possible. We have several ideas brewing!  Andrew Mellor writes for Seismograf, Klassisk, FMQ, Gramophone, BBC, Elephant, ICON, and The Strad among others. He is Nordic correspondent for Opera, Opera Now and Opera News Transfigured Night, Alisa’s first release with the Trondheim Soloists, is out now

How do you like Trondheim?

Do you ever discuss these things with your husband [conductor Rafael Payare]? Yes, all the time! I’ve watched how he rehearses and it’s absolutely fascinating. We try to work together as much as possible and it’s interesting to see how he gets certain colours from orchestras, in particular.

Autumn 2018 The Green Room 21


THE LEEDS INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION

Leeds Town Hall © Simon Wilkinson

The Leeds

The Leeds International Piano Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious, and Askonas Holt is thrilled to be in partnership with the competition. Claire Jackson spoke to co-Artistic Director Adam Gatehouse & Gaetan Le Divelec, Director of Askonas Holt to find out more This year’s instalment will be the first with co-Artistic Directors Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse at the helm. Adam, what new developments can we expect? Adam Gatehouse (AG): Well, The Leeds has always had a place in the top pantheon of competitions. What we felt was lacking was a way of reaching out to the world. We used to bring the world to Leeds – which is a wonderful town in the north of England – but we felt that The Leeds needed to reach out to the world. We brought the first round back in April

22 The Green Room Autumn 2018

out to Berlin, Singapore and New York, those being the three centres from which we draw our competitors, and, for the first time we are streaming the competition online through medici.tv. Through them we will be able to reach an audience of millions – probably a greater audience in this one competition than we’ve brought in the 55 years of the competition’s history. Crucially, I think, we have developed a prize package which is very valuable: partnerships with organisations like the Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Oslo

Philharmonic, Warner Classics, and, really crucially, the partnership we’re developing with Askonas Holt, which will ensure artist management for one of the winners. It’s really important that this prize package is designed with the pianist’s long-term career in mind. How will Askonas Holt’s management do this? Gaetan Le Divelec (GLD): We would always take a long-term view of an artist’s career, particularly a young artist. We take an artist-centred approach, so what we do will very


THE LEEDS INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION

“We all need to remember that any pianist who wins a competition of this calibre, however good they are as an instrumentalist, is still at a stage where there is a lot they need to do in order to develop”

Paul Lewis has spoken before about the importance of not taking on too many engagements within the first year, and how it’s very tempting for a competition prize winner to run before they can walk. Would you agree? GLD: This is perhaps one of the most important things for anyone who manages an artist who has just won an international competition: it

programmes for the semi-finals; they have to come prepared to play these two completely different programmes of 75 minutes, which includes chamber music, and we will choose that the night before one of them has to go on to perform. The same with concertos; they will have to have two concertos ready to play, and we will select which one it is.

Adam Gatehouse © Simon Jay Price

AG: For us, the fact that we are partnering with Askonas Holt is also of huge value. I’ve known Askonas Holt for the best part of 30 years, and have worked with them in various capacities, and have always known them to be an agency that really does take the artist’s long-term career to its heart. I’ve seen so many wonderful artists – Ian Bostridge is one, but going back further, Felicity Lott, Thomas Allen – whose careers started when they were virtually unknown, here at Askonas Holt, and who have in the best possible way been allowed to build their careers to their best possible advantage. For us that is very important.

will be mainly about slowing things down, rather than speeding things up. From an artist manager’s point of view, what a competition of The Leeds’ calibre brings to the equation is momentum, and you could easily take a short-term approach and go too fast. We all need to remember that any pianist who wins a competition of this calibre, however good they are as an instrumentalist, is still at a stage where there is a lot they need to do in order to develop. The danger is that they get exposed too much too soon. A lot of people are going to hear them in the two years which follow the competition, and a lot of people are going to form opinions – that includes concert presenters, orchestra managers... It is really important that they form the right opinion at that point, because if they don’t, you’re looking at years before that can be turned around. It will be a question of pacing the engagements, but also making sure that they play the right repertoire, that they’re really ready to present to the audience, and where they know they can bring something strong and unique. And that’s going to make people who hear them feel that they are an artist who is ready to go. AG: I think it’s very interesting that when we asked Murray Perahia [Patron of The Leeds] what is was like after he won The Leeds in 1972, he said it was quite traumatic because he didn’t have enough repertoire. He had to take six months off to learn repertoire, and had to cancel all the engagements they’d lined up for him! With that in mind, we have raised the stakes a little bit for the contestants, in that, for instance, they have to present two completely different

Gaetan Le Divelec

much depend on the individual. We will focus on their strengths, and look at the areas they need to develop in the short-, medium- and longterm. There is a wide range of ages amongst the finalists, and obviously our approach would be completely different with a 19-year-old than with a 29-year-old. We expect there will be an aspect of it which would be a pastoral role, and advising on career strategy and repertoire. We also have a huge amount of information which transits through our office, and that gives us a real opportunity to place an artist in the right places at the right time.

 Video: watch our full interview with Gaetan & Adam online, at askonasholt.co.uk or on YouTube

Autumn 18 Askonas Holt Magazine 23


THE LEEDS INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION

“Successful representation of an artist rests on a talented artist and good management, but also on a good chemistry between the two” I think the danger of anybody who is catapulted, if you like, onto the stage through winning a major competition is that they simply are not equipped with enough repertoire to cope with it.

gets through to the semi-finals has to present the jury with a 500-word exposé about why they have chosen the programme, and that will be taken into account.

GLD: It’s the amount of repertoire, and it’s the ability to build a programme. One of the things that gave us faith that The Leeds was a competition that we’d like to establish a partnership with was the thinking that went into all this. You feel that they have thought about all the aspects that make a successful concert pianist: not just the instrumental part, but the repertoire, how to build a programme, the chamber music side of things... These are all crucial aspects of building a career.

Which again is unusual, and it’s these forward-thinking ideas that are making this competition so exciting. One of the particularly unusual things about this prize package is that it’s not automatically going to be the first prize winner that Askonas Holt represents. Can you tell us why?

Both of those aspects; the chamber music and the breadth of repertoire, that’s quite unusual in a piano competition. AG: I think where we are slightly different to some of the others, is that we do make some quite strong stipulations. Particularly when it comes to – again going back to Murray Perahia – what he called the ‘core classical repertoire’, which is what he said attracted him to The Leeds. So, for both the preliminary rounds and the first round, they have to perform a work pre-1800 or pre-1820. In the concertos, they have to have a concerto which goes from Bach to Mendelssohn, via Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn, as well as Rachmaninov, Schumann, Chopin or Prokofiev. They need to be able to do both, and I think that is crucial. The other crucial thing that Gaetan touched on is the programming, and each of the contestants that

24 The Green Room Autumn 2018

GLD: Well, it’s actually quite straight forward. Successful representation of an artist rests on obviously a talented artist and good management, but also on a good chemistry between the two. To be bound to representing an artist without knowing anything about who they are is not something that would make sense from our perspective. There are also some very practical reasons why it isn’t actually possible for us to take on the winner; they may already have representation for example. It was a pragmatic decision. But the way the competition has been designed gives us every reason to believe that we will agree with the jury of the competition, that the winner is also the one that we should represent. Am I right in thinking that jury doesn’t just comprise pianists? AG: We wanted the jury to be one that was international performerled, so there are five international pianists (Paul Lewis, Imogen Cooper, Lars Vogt, Shai Wosner and Sa Chen), but we also wanted a composer, so we have Thomas Larcher. We also wanted a chamber musician, somebody who would bring a

different perspective, and I’m really pleased that Henning Kraggerud is on that, because he’s a kind of wild card. Anyone who’s ever met Henning knows that nothing is quite straight forward with him, and his music making is always really interesting, and he’s collaborated with all sorts of people. Given the accent that we are placing on chamber music, I think that’s really important. Then we have myself, and Gillian Moore [Director of Music at Southbank Centre] as concert promoter. It’s not a huge jury; I don’t see the value in that. It will be interesting to see the dynamic between the mentees and the mentors, particularly as they’re not all pianists. AG: Well, yes, and Henning is going to do a masterclass during the competition. That’s another thing that I have not mentioned and that I should: we’re offering not only the contestants, but the audience members, a much broader experience. The competition element takes place in the afternoons and evenings, but in the mornings, there are going to be masterclasses, exhibitions, discussions, talks. And crucially, all the 24 who come to Leeds will stay at the competition right through to the end GLD: This is another thing that we found incredibly appealing about the way the competition was designed. I’ve always felt, from my perspective as a manager, that a competition should be of value to all the candidates and not just the winners. Given the age difference runs from 20 to 29, the person you’re representing may well still be at a conservatoire, still studying. How would that work? GLD: Again, that really depends on the individual artist, it depends on their professor. There are some artists that are still studying who are very independent from their professors; there are others who will want to discuss everything with their professors. And you have situations


2015 winner Anna Tsybuleva © Simon Wilkinson

THE LEEDS INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION

Key Dates SECOND ROUND 6, 7 & 8 September: Great Hall, University of Leeds SEMI-FINALS 9, 10 & 11 September: Great Hall, University of Leeds where a professor will want to engage with the management, or others where they kind of feel that’s maybe not my job. What it would of course mean if we are looking at an artist who is still studying, is that obviously has a direct impact on the number of engagements that they’re able to take on on an annual basis. We would need to have a very candid discussion with the artist about the comfortable number of engagements they can take without it impacting on their studies and their continued development. That would mean taking a long-term view; we would be looking at perhaps a five-year strategy, where only when you get to that point would you start increasing the pace. We have a lot of experience with managing artists who are at that sort of level; there is a history

of us working for artists who are, some of them, actually still in their mid-teens and who are very much still students. We basically take it slowly. And in the early years, it’s a pastoral role; it’s making sure they do the right things, and it’s often more about saying no than saying yes to invitations. AG: Just to pick up on what Gaetan said about artists in their teens, we have actually raised the lower age limit to 20. There was no age limit; some artists came at 15. Paul and I felt very strongly that, particularly because of those sorts of conflicting things and the fact that at that age they don’t have the repertoire or the maturity… GLD: …or the stamina… AG: …or the experience to really embark on the sort of career that

CONCERTO FINALS 14 & 15 September: Leeds Town Hall with Edward Gardner and the Hallé Orchestra SELECTED TALKS & MASTERCLASSES 9 September: Paul Lewis and Imogen Cooper in conversation with Petroc Trelawny 12 September: Masterclass with Lars Vogt 13 September: Masterclass with Imogen Cooper winning, and the exposure of winning, The Leeds will open them to. If they’re good at 18, they’ll be even better at 21!  This is an edited version of a longer video interview. Watch the full interview at askonasholt.co.uk or on YouTube.

“They have thought about all the aspects that make a successful concert pianist: not just the instrumental part, but the repertoire, how to build a programme, the chamber music side of things...” Autumn 2018 The Green Room 25


INTERVIEW: XUEFEI YANG

Guitar pioneer

古典吉他先锋 Xuefei Yang discusses being a classical guitar pioneer in China, the importance of commissioning new work and her pride in bringing Chinese music into her instrument’s repertoire

© Neil Muir

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INTERVIEW: XUEFEI YANG

Xuefei Yang has achieved many firsts in her career as a classical guitarist, including being the first to graduate on the instrument from a Chinese conservatoire, the first Chinese musician to receive a full postgrad scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and the first Chinese guitarist to make a career on the world stage. Now based in the UK, with a dozen albums under her belt, she has been on the Askonas Holt roster since 2003. People perhaps still think of classical guitar as a bit of niche instrument but you really had to be a pioneer growing up in China. Were you really the first the first person to study the classical guitar in a Chinese conservatoire? In the whole country, yes! Because the guitar wasn’t accepted as an instrument back then, so I was squeezed in as an unofficial student for a few years before a proper faculty was set up. It was a big risk. So you could have ended up not being able to get a recognised degree? My parents wanted me to change instrument because they were worried about what kind of career I was going to have. If you think in the West, even a hundred years ago, before Segovia, classical guitar wasn’t fully accepted as a concert instrument but still, you could go to a conservatoire if your level was good enough and try and make a career for yourself. It wouldn’t be quite the same in China when I was starting because, after you graduate, you wouldn’t be allocated a job. The government decides if there’s a faculty. Now it’s different of course. When I came to the UK in 2000 after I’d just graduated with the equivalent of a bachelor’s, I thought everything would be much better as

a guitarist in the West, with much more opportunity. But actually I found things were only a little bit better. Classical guitar is still a niche interest. All over the world that’s the case. Is part of the instrument’s relatively low profile down to a limited repertoire? I don’t quite agree that the repertoire is limited. The mainstream classical repertoire, if you’re talking about Germany and Austria, yes it’s limited – Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, none of these composers wrote anything for guitar. But if you ask me about my own repertoire, I have loads to play: I have Latin American repertoire, plus throughout the 20th century lots of composers wrote good pieces, and in the Renaissance the lute was the main instrument, so there’s a lot there too. How about playing with orchestra? Presumably a solo guitarist doesn’t get as many opportunities as, say, a violinist. But if you think about violinists or pianists, yes they have loads of concertos but even they only ever get to play the same few. So when it comes to popular concertos for the guitar, ok, now it’s just one or two but it’s up to us to promote the others. Even Aranjuez [the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo], our one really famous concerto, it’s a great piece, but also it’s had some luck reaching a wider public, being used in films liked Brassed Off or, for instance, by Miles Davis in Sketches of Spain. I try to commission new works, not just concertos, but solo and chamber pieces as well. I think it’s very important – you don’t know which one is going to turn out to be great, you have to keep doing it. And you have to inspire the composer and the composer has to inspire the players

“Knowing the original score and why decisions have been made ... it all affects the musical interpretation.”

and you get into a positive loop. And maybe some pieces will turn out to be great, we don’t know – time will tell. Could you tell us a bit about the process of commissioning new work? Do you work quite closely with the composers? Do you look for people who have experience of writing for the guitar or do you find a composer whose music you like and teach them about the instrument’s capabilities? Both actually. In general I feel composers are quite scared about writing for the guitar because most of them don’t know how the instrument works. In that case, I would try to play for them while the work is in progress so they have an idea of how it will sound. Sometimes they’re really surprised and find themselves going in a new direction. I’ve had new pieces from non-guitarist and guitarist composers, and I have found that the pieces written by non-guitarists are very musical, but they tend to not be guitaristic enough, and don’t make the most of the instrument. But then with guitarist composers it can be the opposite – that the piece is very guitaristic but the musical ideas get a bit lost among the technical elements. Do you perform your own music? So far only arrangements, but I would like to try and compose in the future. Though transcriptions for guitarists are very important. There are piano works, particularly by Spanish composers, which have become more popular on the guitar than in the original. And for me as a musician, it is important to create my own arrangements. Knowing the original score and why decisions have been made – a crescendo here, a particular fingering there... it all affects the musical interpretation. I am very proud of my Bach concerto arrangements, and I worked very hard on them [two violin and one harpsichord concerto arranged for guitar and string quartet, recorded for EMI in 2012]. Bach’s music is incredibly

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INTERVIEW: XUEFEI YANG

In terms of the instrument itself: unlike the violin, the form of which was essentially standardised 300 years ago, the guitar is still developing, people are coming up with new construction methods and experimenting with new materials. Do you embrace these changes? Do you have a favourite guitar? Yes, guitar making is very open and makers are constantly trying new things. The instrument basically developed along with the repertoire. I have a copy of a 19th-century guitar, for instance, which has a very sweet sound, but if you try to play modern music on it it just doesn’t work. Ideally I would play a different guitar for different types of music: a 19thcentury guitar to play that repertoire, an older style to play Bach, a Spanish guitar for Spanish music, which is a very percussive, rhythmic style, and maybe a very ringing guitar to play song repertoire. But it’s not possible to take so many guitars on tour! At the most I’ve taken three guitars on stage, but for all my recordings I have used multiple guitars – because in the studio you have time to warm up and you don’t have to worry about volume. In concert, I usually play a very modern guitar which is very untraditional, from the structure inside to the sound. It is made by Greg Smallman in Australia and is a perfect example of the modern school of making. Although you have long been based in the UK, you travel a lot, including of course to China. How do you find performing there now, compared to when you were starting out? I can feel a great energy around music in China. I feel quite excited. The pace of change is incredible. I was quite shocked by the number of concert halls being built, even in smaller cities. We have great hardware now, though we still need to work on the software, the audiences! That is changing too, however. Twenty years ago, maybe even ten years ago, giving a concert in Beijing you’d expect the audience to

28 The Green Room Autumn 2018

be noisy, with kids running around, and that is no longer the case – at least in Beijing, though it might be in smaller cities where there isn’t an established tradition of going to classical music concerts. But then you have to consider: ok, it’s nicer for me to play a recital in silence, but it’s also great that people are bringing children to concerts, and creating the audiences of the future. Maybe after a few years they will really fall in love with music. At the very beginning when I would go back to China I would think I prefer the audiences in the West, where they are more educated, quieter, etc, but now I have a different attitude. Every time, after a concert, I do an album signing, it’s like I’m a pop star – I could be there signing for hours. I feel a great future for classical music there. The musical industry is not developed, it’s not mature you might say, but there is huge potential.

“I can feel a great energy around music in China. I feel quite excited. The pace of change is incredible.”

What interesting projects have you got coming up? I have just recorded an album with a violinist. Going back to the guitar being a niche instrument, one thing we can do to make it more prominent and get it on the main stage is to merge with other instruments. And, personally, as much as I love solo work, I learn the most by collaborating with other musicians. I am also preparing a solo disc for release next year, which will include transcriptions of music from China, both traditional and by contemporary composers. Many of our traditional instruments are plucked so the guitar is a very natural fit. I included Chinese music on two of my early albums [2005’s Si Ji and 40 Degrees North from 2008] but the older I get the more I think I need to do this. I’ve played music from all different cultures but what about my own?  Kimon Daltas is an arts journalist and editor. Currently online editor for The Strad, he is former editor of Classical Music magazine

© Neil Muir

versatile and very suitable for guitar.


MEET THE TEAM

Meet the team In the second of our series of interviews with the AH team, we speak to Artist Manager Susie Murray Tell us a little about your day-today role at Askonas Holt. I manage the career of several conductors and pianists; my day to day can include booking engagements, setting up record deals, travelling to concerts to support the artist and meet promoters in person… and plenty of miscellaneous jobs on top of this too! What do you like most about your job? I enjoy helping people and working in a team to support fantastic musicans. Favourite live music experience? This is such a difficult question… a recent musical experience that bowled me over was in January 2017 when I saw the revival of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at the Royal Opera House. That’s definitely up there as one of my favourite live music experiences; the libretto, music, choreography, set design and cast came together so perfectly. Achievement (professional or personal) you’re most proud of? I’m currently training to be a Yoga Instructor which I’m pretty proud of. I was the slowest kid in school who always got picked last for teams in PE, so to be doing a qualification that requires a fitness level of any kind is hilarious!

Who would you invite to your ideal dinner party, living or dead? And why? There are so many worthy people who should be invited to this, so in order not to have to think too much about it, I’m going to say the cast of Some Like it Hot and my family. My brother and I adore this film and watched it all the time when we grew up, so it would be fun to have everyone around a table to regail us with stories of what it was like to make. Best professional advice received? The people you work with are as important as the job you do. Instruments played? Piano and voice (soprano). Favourite food? Anything involving seafood. Mastermind specialist subject? London pubs that put on gigs! Favourite quote or saying? “It’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years” (the source of this quote is much argued but I don’t care who said it!)

Artist Manager and in-house yoga guru Susie Murray joined Askonas Holt in 2010, following a degree in Music at The University of York, and internships in artist management. She works with Ainars Rubikis, Alexandre Bloch, Enrique Mazzola, Harry Bicket, Murray Perahia KBE, Tadaaki Otaka, Thomas Søndergård, Yevgeny Sudbin, and the four Partitura Project pianists: Julien Brocal, Julien Libeer, Lilit Grigoryan and Miloš Popović.

What change would you most like to see take place in classical music? For it to be regarded as a genre that people can dip into even if they’re not an expert. 

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ON TOUR: OCTOBER, NOVEMBER & DECEMBER

On Tour Carolin Widmann © Lennard Rühle

巡演在即

Upcoming projects organised by our Tours & Projects department

CHINA FOCUS

LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA & SIR SIMON RATTLE For their first time together, the London Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Sir Simon Rattle tour to South Korea for two performances in Seoul’s newest venue, the Lotte Concert Hall 1 & 2 Oct · Lotte Concert Hall

© Berliner Philharmoniker / Stefan Höderath

BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER IN ASIA Conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the Berliner Philharmoniker perform Bernstein, Mahler, Shostakovich and Mozart in Thailand, Taiwan and mainland China 9 Nov · Prince Mahidol Hall, Bangkok 11 Nov · National Concert Hall, Taipei 13 Nov · National Concert Hall, Taipei 14 Nov · National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, Kaohsiung 16 Nov · Shenzhen Concert Hall, Shenzen 17 Nov · Shenzhen Concert Hall, Shenzen 20 Nov · Xi’an Concert Hall, Xi’an 22 Nov · National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing 23 Nov · National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing

I, CULTURE ORCHESTRA, KIRILL KARABITS & CAROLIN WIDMANN Carolin performs Symanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the orchestra and its Artistic Director, Kirill Karabits, who also perform works by Penderecki and Stravinsky 25 Oct · BOZAR, Brussels 29 Oct · Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg VOICES NEW ZEALAND Marking our first collaboration with the choir, Voices New Zealand travel to Aix-en-Provence where they perform The Unusual Silence, a specially curated programme in remembrance of WWI. Presented by Grand Théâtre de Provence

LSO © Ranald Mackechnie

6 Nov · Conservatoire Darius Milhaud CHOIR OF ST JOHN’S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE The choir, directed by Andrew Nethsingha, perform a programme of Christmas favourites in Amsterdam 16 Dec · Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

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ON TOUR: OCTOBER, NOVEMBER & DECEMBER

CHINA FOCUS

THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET

Joyce DiDonato © Brooke Shaden

Lana Jones in David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty. The Australian Ballet © Jeff Busby

The Australian Ballet embark on their ninth tour to China, where David McAllister’s 2015 The Sleeping Beauty receives its international debut. The company will also perform Maina Gielgud’s Giselle in Nanjing 11, 12, 13 & 14 Oct · National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing 19 & 20 Oct · Jiangsu Centre for Performing Arts, Nanjing 26, 27 & 28 Oct · Shanghai Grand Theatre, Shanghai

IN WAR & PEACE: HARMONY THROUGH MUSIC, JOYCE DiDONATO & IL POMO D’ORO Joyce DiDonato’s In War & Peace makes its debut in Russia with il pomo d’oro, who also perform an all-Mozart programme as part of the inaugural season at the new Zaryadye Hall in Moscow 29 Nov & 1 Dec · In War & Peace, Zaryadye Hall 30 Nov · il pomo d’oro Mozart programme, Zaryadye Chamber Hall

View all projects at www.askonasholt.co.uk/tours

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© Askonas Holt 2018 15 Fetter Lane, London EC4A 1BW +44 (0)20 7400 1700 info@askonasholt.co.uk 32 The Green Room Autumn 2018 www.askonasholt.co.uk

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The Green Room Issue 3 Autumn 2018 : China focus