Con Building Bridge to China
Today, the public eye is fixed on China as the country continues to quickly gain international prominence. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that for over half a century, the Oberlin Conservatory, with its progressive vision, has been cultivating a healthy relationship with China in order to increase opportunities for its students.
China is the new global hotspot, likely to become the world’s most popular travel destination within the next seven years, according to the World Tourism Organization. Just this Wednesday, China’s largest air carrier, Air China, announced plans to add ten new routes in order to accommodate the heavy flow of traffic into the country. Chinese airlines will tack on a total of 27 new flight plans by the end of 2009.
Also on Wednesday, the World Bank raised its forecast for China’s economic growth to 11.3 percent, almost one percent higher than its initial projection of 10.4 percent. And with next year’s Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, it is almost impossible to detract the world’s attention from China.
Over Fall Break, the Conservatory will be sending a faculty delegation to China to teach master classes and discuss exciting new endeavors. The Conservatory has done so for the past few years, maintaining close contact with the Chinese government and a number of musical institutions, namely the Szechuan, Shanghai and Central Conservatories and the Forren School. Talks have also taken place with professional orchestras and opera companies for future collaborative projects.
International Outreach Coordinator Kai Fu, OC ’06, helped strengthen the institution’s link to China by bringing in Xiaohong Chen, the general manager of the Dalian Performing Art Agency, to assist Oberlin in its planning.
“The Conservatory enjoys a very long history with China,” said Conservatory Dean David H. Stull, OC ’89.
The Conservatory’s first substantial connection to China was a result of the work of Huang Zi, OC ’26, a Chinese double-degree student in composition and psychology. Upon graduating, Zi became a well-known composer and returned to his native country to co-found the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, China’s first institution focused on the study of Western music. Zi based the curriculum on the same tenets and principles that he found inspiring at Oberlin.
Since that time, the study of classical and jazz music in China has undergone intense development, producing numerous talented Chinese youths. As expected, the country’s music facilities have also improved greatly, accommodating the needs of its musicians.
In the last few years, China has erected a number of new performance spaces and renovated existing ones. Built in 2004, the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center is now home to the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. The $120 million complex is shaped like a butterfly orchid and has attracted famed musicians and ensembles to its stage.
In 2005, the Beijing Concert Hall relocated to the National Theatre Dome, a silver mass that rises above the city as a part of its contemporary architectural landscape. The Oberlin Orchestra’s 2006 Winter Term concert tour brought the group to the Shanghai Concert Hall, which also went under the knife a few years ago. Renovations expanded the space to four times its original size.
The tour was the largest one taken by an American orchestra in China. In over 13 days, the musicians performed nine concerts in five cities: Anshan, Shenyang, Dalian, Shanghai and Beijing.
This summer, the Oberlin International Piano Competition and Festival, for pianists aged 13 to 18, saw an increase in the number of Chinese musicians. Preliminary auditions, required before the first live round of competition at Oberlin, were held in five cities. Winners from each city received financial assistance to cover the cost of airfare, awards that were sponsored by Tencent, a leading Internet company in China.
The first prize of $10,000 also included two solo orchestral engagements in Beijing and Hong Kong. With more opportunities than before, many Chinese students clamored for the chance to come to Oberlin. This year, the program received over three times more applications than in previous years.
Producer Wanjie Liu and his crew filmed parts of a documentary that is to be broadcast on China Central Television. An English-language version has also been made.
Other institutions, such as Northwestern University’s School of Music, have also shown interest in establishing a relationship with China. However, Oberlin’s proactive attitude has pushed it ahead of the pack.
The College has also enjoyed a strong connection to China. Kong Xiangxi, OC 1906, also known as H. H. Kong, was claimed to be a 75th generation direct descendent of Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.E.). Kong, whose brother-in-law was Chiang Kai-shek, worked as the Minister of Finance and president of the Central Bank of China before becoming the Prime Minister. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Oberlin’s Shansi Programs.