Celebrating its twenty-second year, the 2019 Beijing Music Festival (BMF) presents an art feast for audiences during Beijing’s golden autumn. Over the past two decades, world-renowned conductor Long Yu established a rich artistic foundation for the Beijing Music Festival. And beginning in 2018, the new artistic director Shuang Zou, with the support of Maestro Long Yu, the BMF Artistic Committee, and supporting staff, has succeeded in incorporating more inclusive and avant-garde artistic elements to the festival, which are sure to surprise and impress audiences.
On the morning of July 18, at the press conference held at Beijing’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, BMF announced 22 performances for the 22nd festival (16 unique programs), taking place October 4 through 28 and including a wide variety of operas, symphonic concerts, recitals, chamber music concerts and virtual reality music experiences. The Festival also presents more than 12 free educational events, including children’s concerts, masterclasses, lectures, and more.
With the theme “Timeless Music into the Future,” the 22nd BMF strives to explore a new style of classical music with today’s most cutting-edge expressive forms, and to incorporate more new ideas with a “Chinese Concept” which the Festival has long advocated and refined. A young generation of internationally acclaimed composers will be on BMF’s stage, including the opera highlight Angel’s Bone by Du Yun, the first female Chinese Pulitzer Prize winner. Additionally, by focusing on innovative and avant-garde programs and inviting a group of trend-setting neoclassical musicians, BMF wishes to lead the Chinese classical music stage to brand new artistic realms. Among them, BMF’s commissioned composer Michel van der Aa’s latest work of mixed-reality musical theater Eight receives its Asia debut, and composer Max Richter, a contemporary classical figure, presents his monumental eight-hour composition Sleep at the foot of the Great Wall.
The 22nd BMF invites an extraordinary line-up of national and international ensembles, conductors and performers, including the legendary sopranos Edita Gruberová and Renée Fleming; the first resident orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra led by Vladimir Ashkenazy; master pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet; Opera Fuoco conducted by David Stern; Maestro Charles Dutoit with Shanghai Symphony Orchestra; Maestro Pinchas Zukerman; and the music prodigy Alma Deutscher.
At the press conference, the Beijing Music Festival officially announces its three-year artistic collaboration – from 2020 to 2022 – with the Opéra Comique based in Paris. Three operas co-produced by the two parties, including two classic Western operas and a Chinese opera, will be staged at the Opéra Comique in Paris and the Beijing Music Festival. Cultural officials from the French Embassy in China also conveyed congratulations from the French Minister of Culture on this partnership.
Beijing Music Festival has long-presented outstanding vocalists, including José Carreras, Kathleen Battle, Agnes Baltsa, and Anne Sofie Von Otter, all of whom have left lasting and wonderful impressions on audiences with their beautiful voices. This year, Edita Gruberová and Renée Fleming, two of the most brilliant, internationally celebrated sopranos, make appearances at the Grand Opening and Closing Gala of the 22nd Beijing Music Festival.
At the Grand Opening concert on October 9, Edita Gruberová, who is widely considered one of the greatest coloratura sopranos of the century and is rightfully called the “Queen of Coloratura,” makes her BMF debut. Gruberová has enjoyed an unparalleled artistic career, with a virtuoso coloratura technique and a unique and charming voice, making her shine on the European and American opera stage for more than half a century. She has not only collaborated with great conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti and Karl Böhm, but has also released countless classic recordings. This time, the 72-year-old diva joins the China Philharmonic Orchestra in an opera featuring renowned arias by Donizetti, Rossini, Bellini and Verdi.
On October 28, the most internationally influential American soprano Renée Fleming marks the end of the 22nd BMF. Also the most renowned soprano by Chinese audiences, Fleming has won many Gramophone Classical Music Awards and Grammy Awards. A representative figure of soprano, she is well known for her virtually unmatched skill and eloquent performance, making achievements in the Italian, French and German opera fields. This time, Fleming debuts in the Closing Gala of BMF, in which Maestro Long Yu joins with the China Philharmonic Orchestra.
For the first time in Beijing Music Festival’s history, the Grand Opening on October 9 will be held in the Concert Hall of the National Centre for the Performing Arts. A broader cooperative space has been reached, as the two major art institutions in Beijing join hands. Previously, the China NCPA Orchestra was invited to participate in the opening concert of the 19th Beijing Music Festival in 2016. While in the same year, Maestro Long Yu, Chairman of the Artistic Committee at BMF, conducted the China Philharmonic Orchestra in the NCPA’s opera production, La Traviata.
The Pulitzer Prize Winning Opera Angel’s Bone Debuts
BMF and Opéra Comique Join Hands in International Collaboration
At the core of the Beijing Music Festival since its establishment over two decades ago, opera performances have ranged In Focus from French and Italian classic operas to German and Austrian romantic operas, and later to modernist works in the 20th century. In recent years, more avant-garde and cutting-edge stage works have been introduced on BMF’s opera stage. This year, on October 18 and 19 at Poly Theatre, the 22nd BMF features the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Angel’s Bone by composer Du Yun-another original opera by a Chinese composer at BMF after Fay Kueen Wang’s BMF-commissioned immersive theater L’Orfeo last year.
As a leading figure in China’s new generation of globally active composers, Du Yun won the Pulitzer Prize with her opera Angel’s Bone, which took her seven years to accomplish. She was the second Chinese composer to win the Prize after Zhou Long, who won with the BMF-commissioned work Madame White Snake. Presenting another Pulitzer Prize-winning opera not only showcases the continuing focus of the Festival on the outstanding Chinese artists abroad under the long-standing “Chinese Concept,” but it also introduces the outstanding achievements of the new generation of Chinese musicians to domestic audiences.
Further realizing the artistic vision of opera art, Beijing Music Festival and Opéra Comique reached a three-year agreement of artistic collaboration, which was highlighted at the press conference. The two sides will jointly produce and promote their own representative works. In 2020, Opéra Comique takes the lead to present Georges Bizet’s Carmen, directed by the famous opera director Andreas Homoki, and conducted by Maestro Long Yu on the stage of the 23rd Beijing Music Festival. In 2022, the two parties will feature a brand-new staged version of Madame White Snake by Zhou Long. Opéra Comique is the third collaboration with internationally renowned artistic institutions for BMF after working with the Salzburg Easter Festival (Osterfestspiele Salzburg) and Festival d’Aix-en-Provence/Château La Coste.
With the theme “Timeless Music into the Future,” BMF seeks to make breakthroughs in the avant-garde performance area, thus redefining classical music. The main event is Holland’s treasured composer Michel van der Aa’s latest “mixed reality” musical theater work, Eight. Co-commissioned by the Beijing Music Festival, Holland Festival, KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen and the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence /Château La Coste, Eight is a unique fusion of music, theatre, visual art and virtual reality. From Oct 10 to 27, at The Red of Taikoo Li Sanlitun North, BMF will present nearly 900 performances over 18 consecutive days to celebrate its premiere as BMF’s resident musical.
Standing as one of the most influential figures in contemporary music, British-German composer Max Richter comes to BMF with his monumental eight-hour composition Sleep. Originating from his 2015 Deutsche Grammophon recording, this concert features Richter playing the piano and keyboard with string quintet and soprano. On October 4, when this innovative piece receives its first performance in Asia at the foot of the Shuiguan Great Wall, the audience (provided with beds) will fully immerse themselves in the eight-hour experience from midnight to dawn, connecting this mysterious world of sleep and dreams with the eternal glory of the Great Wall of China.
Since 2002, the Beijing Music Festival has proudly commissioned some of the most exciting musical voices of contemporary music, including domestic and overseas composers such as Tan Dun, Qigang Chen, Krzysztof Penderecki, Philip Glass, and Howard Shore. And 2019 is no exception as BMF presents the world premiere of Aaron Zigman’s Tango Manos Piano Concerto, a work specially commissioned for the Festival. His friend Jean-Yves Thibaudet will perform with the China Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Huang Yi.
In “A Concert of BMF Commissions,” the audience will also have the opportunity to appreciate some of the other significant commissioned works in BMF’s history, including the Last Sacrifice by Zhou Long, commissioned in 2013, and a version without words of Xiaogang Ye’s The Song of Farewell, commissioned in 2010.
A hallmark of significant international music festivals, as well as for the development of classical music, the importance of commissioned works is self-evident. The Beijing Music Festival has played a vital role in advancing the development of music in China, particularly as it pioneered the commissioning of various domestic and overseas composers, and actively advocated and promoted them. This reflects the clear artistic concept of Maestro Long Yu, the renowned conductor and Chairman of the Artistic Committee at Beijing Music Festival, to let China and the world hear each other’s voice, and to pass down musical and cultural wealth of both sides through our commissioned works.
This year, the Beijing Music Festival inaugurates a new chapter of the “resident orchestra” with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO), founded by Maestro Claudio Abbado, as the first invitee. On October 20, 23 and 25, led by Vladimir Ashkenazy, the MCO features three riveting performances and a special charity event for audiences of the festival.
Founded in 1997, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra consists of elite performers from more than 20 countries around the world. The MCO has not only collaborated with many well-known conductors like Abbado, Daniel Harding, Daniele Gatti, Paavo Järvi, Gustavo Dudamel, but also becomes a core part of the annual Lucerne Festival Orchestra. In 2015, the Orchestra made its debut on the stage of the Beijing Music Festival led by Finnish Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen, leaving a lasting impression on the audience by their exquisite performance.
On October 20 at the Poly Theatre, the MCO, led by Maestro Ashkenazy, perform Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and selections from Songs of Travel by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, 2 pieces for String Octet, Op. 11 (orchestral strings version) and Symphony, Op. 110a by Dmitri Shostakovich. On October 23, famous violinist James Ehnes joins forces with the MCO to play”Blumine” from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19. Finally, on October 25, the MCO performs works by Qigang Chen, Michel van der Aa, Pulitzer Prize-winner Du Yun, and Grammy Award nominated-composer Zhou Tian. The third concert will be a feast of modern music combining the domestic and overseas composers of the new generation.
Both Zhou Tian and Du Yun have been nominated for Grammy Awards. While Zhou Tian was nominated for the 60th Grammy Awards for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for Concerto for Orchestra, the first Chinese composer ever nominated in this category, Du Yun was nominated for the Best Classical Contemporary Composition for her work Air Glow, making her the first Asian female nominee in the history of the Grammys.
On October 22, after an absence of ten years, Maestro Pinchas Zukerman is back at BMF with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducting a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Egmont, Op.84 and Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Op.36. Zukerman foregoes the baton for a bow as soloist for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219 “The Turkish”.
2019 marks the 260th and 150th death of composers Handel and Berlioz. The 22nd BMF pays homage to the two legends with their operas Xerxes and La Damnation de Faust.
On October 17, conductor David Stern, son of the late legendary violinist Isaac Stern and longtime friend of BMF, conducts a concert version of Handel’s opera Xerxes with the Opera Fuoco. Opera Fuoco is primarily dedicated to the interpretation of operatic repertoire from the Baroque period, using authentic period instruments. The ensemble brings historic performances to audiences around the world and is quite popular among Chinese audiences after three consecutive years’ performance at the Shanghai Baroque Festival.
On October 21, Maestro Charles Dutoit leads the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo in a performance of La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz, only 17 years after the Chinese debut of the work under the baton of Maestro Long Yu at the beginning of 2002. BMF is delighted to welcome back Maestro Charles Dutoit to perform this epic masterpiece of Berlioz.
Together with Beijing Music Radio (FM 97.4), the 22nd BMF is delighted to launch Lunchtime Concert Series. From October 9 to 11, young Chinese pianist Zee Zee will bring different styles of works over three consecutive days, with repertoire ranging from the classic works of Bach, Schumann, and Liszt to more modern composers such as Tan Dun and Piazzolla. BMF’s Lunchtime Concert Series will last approximately 30-40 minutes, similar to the lunchtime concert in Europe and America where it’s quite popular, and will be broadcast to every corner of the city.
On October 12 and marking the only instrumental recital at the 22nd BMF, audiences in Beijing will have a chance to witness and feel the amazing talent of pianist, violinist, and composer Alma Deutscher, the 14-year-old British music prodigy who stunned the European and American music worlds. Music professionals ranging from Sir Simon Rattle, to Zubin Mehta, and Daniel Barenboim unanimously believe she is a genius. Alma will perform some of her best-loved and most impressive compositions on the piano (composed from age four to fourteen) and play the violin in the second half of the concert in a selection of Bach and Schubert’s chamber music masterpieces.
The 22nd Beijing Music Festival takes its outreach initiative to new heights by presenting a re-imagined Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach, an opera created and performed entirely by children, staged in the grand hall of Indigo Beijing.
2019 marks the 200th anniversary of Offenbach’s birth. This opera is based on three short stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and combines comic, tragic and fantastic elements. With the production of his magnum opus, BMF pays tribute to one of the most influential French composers of the 19th century.
Drawing on the rich experiences of a European and Chinese creative team, this youth project is based on the idea of opera as a “total work of art.” Children have been rehearsing for over two months, working through all performing, staging and design aspects of Offenbach’s last great opera, getting fully involved under the experienced guidance of professionals.
This will be the first opera BMF presents that is produced and interpreted by children and teenagers. Particularly impressive is that a first-ever BMF Children’s Festival Orchestra will be assembled, and conductor Zhang Bingbing will lead the Orchestra with outstanding young singers of the Beijing Philharmonic Choir to complete the opera performance. The BMF Children’s Festival Orchestra is planning opening audition to qualified young people aged 9-16. In the future, the BMF Children’s Festival Orchestra will continue to operate, design, plan and create a series of activities, an important part of the “Teenager Art Project” launched by Beijing Music Festival and its strategic partner Kuke Music. The performance will be at Indigo on October 19 and 20.
The Festival’s non-profit education projects boast a roster including Renée Fleming, Michel van der Aa, Alma Deutscher, Zee Zee, Du Yun, Zhou Tian, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo, and more. It features activities like concert appreciation guidance, lunch concerts, special concerts for children’s benefit, and communications with artists, as well as a new “Philharmonic Stage” unit – a stage for a wider range of music lovers.
At the press conference, the Beijing Music Festival also announces two strategic partners, Kuke Music and Tencent Arts. Dedicated to public and children’s music education and the development of music industry, by creating a long-term and in-depth strategic partnership, BMF will join hands with the two sides in the promotion of better music in China.