Greetings from Shanghai, where we’re drawing breath momentarily after a packed first couple of days on tour. The orchestra has travelled to China for Listen to the 20th Century: a mini-festival at the Shanghai Concert Hall presented in partnership with the Southbank Centre. A four-day programme of concerts, talks, and films exploring the history of twentieth-century music, the festival offers a distilled version of The Rest is Noise, the extraordinary year-long series inspired by Alex Ross’ book of the same name, running at Southbank Centre throughout 2013.
Aurora is contributing five concerts to this series, performing a wonderful collection of twentieth-century musical highlights ranging from Debussy, Stravinsky and Schoenberg to Ligeti, Bernstein and Ades. The Shanghai Concert Hall (pictured below in a photo taken immediately before last night’s opening concert) is a remarkable venue – built in 1930 in the Huangpu District of central Shanghai, in 2007 it found itself in the path of a new highway being constructed through the area. Such was the importance placed on the building as part of the cultural fabric of the city that, instead of replacing the hall, the decision was taken to move (at vast cost!) the entire edifice by a distance of 60 metres to the east to preserve its existing form.
It was clear from the very start of the festival yesterday afternoon that there’s huge local appetite for the music we’ll be performing here in Shanghai – an opening pre-concert conversation between broadcaster Sara Mohr-Pietsch, musicologist Julian Johnson and Southbank Centre’s Gillian Moore proved a sell-out attraction, with an audience of over 200. (Indeed we’re told by our hosts that all of the events in the series are more or less fully booked – no mean achievement given that they’ve only been on sale for just over a month!)
The evening concert included Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending (with Thomas Gould as violin soloist) and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, performed alongside Suzie Templeton’s Oscar-winning animated film. Amongst many highlights the Prokofiev proved particularly memorable: it was fascinating and moving to see the language of both music and film resonating with a Chinese audience in many of the same ways as when we perform the work in London. If you’re not already familiar with the animation you can see a clip here – just as at the Royal Festival Hall when we last screened the film, it was the cat that got the biggest laughs last night.
While Rory Macdonald was rehearsing the orchestra at the Concert Hall yesterday afternoon, assistant conductor Jamie Phillips was over in the area of Shanghai known as the French Concession, a reference to its status as a French-administered territory for almost a century until 1946. This stunningly beautiful district is home to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, China’s oldest music college, with whose students we’ll be staging a collaborative performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite later this evening. Here’s Jamie in action rehearsing with the student players yesterday:
That’s it for today – check in again tomorrow to find out how the Stravinsky went down. In the meantime we’ll leave you with a couple more images of Shanghai’s amazing urban landscape collected by players over the past 24 hours, including the shot immediately below taken from a bedroom window in our hotel this morning: