Setting the Standard: Diverse, High Quality New Music

The 2015 Beijing Modern Music Festival



The 2015 Beijing Modern Music Festival (BMMF) opened on the evening of May 24thwith a symphonic works concert at the National Center for the Performing Arts, and concluded on June 2ndwith the performance of new chamber opera. The festival was hosted by the Central Conservatory Music, and made possible thanks to support from the Chinese Ministry of Education and the Chinese Ministry of Culture.



Strength and Quality: Contemporary Music on the Cutting Edge

        This year’s festival, unlike those in previous years, did not feature research or discussion forums, but was rathercomposed entirely of ten days of concerts and masterclasses. The festival saw a diverse selection of new works by composers from Europe, Asia, and the Americas performed by a cast of outstanding musicians, leaving the observer with an overwhelming impression of artistic strength and high quality.

        The layout of the festival was more or less simple: in general there was a masterclass given by a well-known composer each morning, followed by three concerts, two in the afternoon and one in the evening. There were 23 concerts in all, most of which were given at venues on the campus of the Central Conservatory, with opera and symphonic performances being held at the Beijing Concert Hall and the National Center for the Performing Arts.Eighty-six composers had their works featured, including 28 from China, amounting to a total of 118 works performed.Notable composers who gave masterclasses at the festival included Tristan Murail, Bright Sheng, J?rgWidmann, Fazil Say, FrédéricDurieux, and Alexina Louie.

        Over its 13-year history, the Beijing Modern Music Festival has grown into an influential force not only for introducing Chinese audiences to new music from around the world, but also for presenting new works by Chinese composers to an international audience.
Chinese Symphonic Music: Commemorating History, Looking Towards the Future.

        The opening concert of this year’s festival marked the 70th anniversary of China’s victory in World War II. BMMF Artistic Advisor Professor Ye Xiaogang remarked, “I hope that all of those who attend this year’s festival can once again experience music’s beauty and sorrow, the history it contains, and the power of the musical creations of our own time.” In this way, the festival has demonstrated that it not only concerns itself with purely artistic matters such as the development of new ideas and techniques, but also with historical commemoration and the striving after a better future for humankind. This opening concert consisted of five works, “The Mast at Dawn” by Zheng Yang (b. 1988), “Les offrandesoubliées” by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), “Lotus” by GuoWenjing (b. 1956), “Diary of a Female Sniper” by Wang Feinan (b. 1986), and “Le Désenchantement du monde” by Tristan Murail (b. 1947). The festival’s other symphonic concerts included a performance by the Sichuan ConservatorySymphony Orchestra (featuring the Berg Violin Concerto, music of Qin Wenchen, and a performance by Fazil Say of his own piano concerto), a performance of Guan Xia’s “The Requiem” at the National Center for the Performing Arts, and a performance by the Central Conservatory’s EOS Orchestra conducted by Bright Sheng (including music of J?rgWidmann andFrédéricDurieux, as well as one of Sheng’s own works).



The Power of Music: Facing the World, Facing the Future

13 Chamber Music Concerts

        The chamber music medium’s special qualities make it the ideal format for composers to express their most personal thoughts and feelings. This year’s festival included 13 different concerts featuring performances of new chamber works. Among the most notable of these was a performance by the Asian American New Music Ensemble featuring works by composer from China, the United States, Thailand, South Korea, and England, each showcasing its composer’s cultural background and unique personality.

        Several of the works featured in this year’s festival dealt with Tibetan themes, an increasingly prevalent trend among Chinese composers in recent years, including Qin Wenchen’s“Sound from Afar,” Wang Mojiao’schamber opera “Encounter,”and particularly Ye Xiaogang’s “LamuraCuo,” “MapangyongCuo,” and “Colorful Sutra Banner.” All of three of these chamber works drew on both Tibet’s stunning natural beauty and its rich cultural heritage.

        May 27th featured a performance of four “classic” modern works by the venerable American composer George Crumb, alongside works by Ye Xiaogang, Andrew Rudin, and May-Tchi Chen, making for a stylistically diverse mix.Another highlight was a performance by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, consisting of performances of works by some of the most prominent living American composers, including George Tsontakis, Paul Schoenfield, Pierre Jalbert, and Bruce Adolphe, as well as Beijing native and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Zhou Long, whose work “Tales from the Nine Bells” evoked the mysterious grace of ancient Chinese art.




“Ideas Forum”: Music and Idea Collide to Brilliant Effect

        The BMMF’s Assistant Artistic Advisor Qin Wenchenexplained that the goal of the “Ideas Forum” concert series was “not to standardize or rely on formula, but to allow different ideas to collide, giving all sorts of new musical concepts the chance to come together in the same space.”

        This series of six concerts saw performances of works by 24 young composers from China, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and others. These included three chamber operas, a first for the festival: “Prism” by Tian Tian, “Five Sons’ Burial of Their Father” by Shang Jiazi, and “Encounter,” by Wang Mojiao. The last of these used its Tibetan setting to explore the contrasts between modern and traditional ways of life, telling a cautionary tale about the effects of modern technology on our emotional lives.

        One of the more avant-garde concerts of the series was given on May 31st by the American Ensemble “Invisible Anatomy.” Their program, “Body Parts,” consisted of seven worksnamed for different parts of the body, one by each member of the ensemble. Not only the music, but also many of the theatrical aspects of the performance all contributed to a postmodern avant-garde sensibility. But there was much more to the performance than this. For example, the emergence of an elegant melodic line from atonal beginnings in the concert’s final number, Wang Feinan’s “Brain,” left a deep impression on the listener. Most importantly, the performance challenged traditional notions about the separate roles of composer and performer, fusing elements of symphonic music, rock, jazz, and theatre into a c