2020 Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG) Concludes, To Return In 2021


On January 18, the fourth Youth Music Culture Guangdong presented a unique Bach Marathon Concert at the Xinghai Concert Hall performed by all the young musicians of the 2020 YMCG Orchestra, lead by YMCG Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma, Music Director Michael Stern and the YMCG faculty. The concert displayed its four core elements surrounding its moniker youth, music, culture, and Guangdong including open-mindedness, tolerance, communication, and development.

The program included a total of 21 works, including J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, selections of Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1 to 6, and excerpts from The Art of Fugue conducted by YMCG Music Director Michael Stern; 11 new creations by “Silkroad Bands”; and two Bach pieces performed by the Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma. Ma also played Bach’s Sonata in G Major with harpsichordist Avi Stein as an encore. The concert was a true marathon with no intermission, lasting longer than four hours.

The 9-day musical journey, concluding with the sold-out Bach Marathon Concert, was once again enveloped in art and culture – this time through Bach’s music – interpreting the eternal theme of music integrating cultures and art connecting souls.

Global Attention
As a cultural brand with global influence – presented by the Guangdong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, organized jointly by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra (GSO) and Xinghai Concert Hall, and supported by the Information Office of Guangzhou Municipal People’s Government – the 2020 YMCG brought the focus of mainstream media at home and abroad to Guangzhou, the cultural center of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

During the 2020 YMCG, the New York Times from the United States, BBC Music Magazine from the United Kingdom, Limelight Magazine from Australia, Hong Kong Radio 4(RTHK 4), Music Weekly from Beijing, and Sanlian Life Weekly from Beijing, plus other media attended events. Phoenix TV filmed the entire 2020 YMCG and produced a special report about YMCG’s Chairman of the Artistic Committee, Long Yu; Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma; YMCG faculty; and students. Additionally, presidents of top international music conservatories, members of the Presidium of the Chinese Musicians Association and members of the Presidium of China Musicians Association’s Symphony Orchestra League visited YMCG rehearsals and attended the opening concert. President and CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Matías Tarnopolsky, visited YMCG three consecutive days. Major media gave high praise to all performances including the opening and closing concert, especially to the YMCG leadership headed by Yo-Yo Ma, and the Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra concert at six landmarks across Guangzhou. The Australian classical music magazine, Limelight’s Deputy Editor Angus McPherson commented afterwards that, “YMCG 2020 was a fascinating and inspiring cultural exchange centered around the timeless music of Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Timeless Bach
As 2020 is the 335th anniversary of J.S. Bach, his music was the theme of this year’s YMCG. Looking back on the 9-day journey, Bach’s music and spirit were everywhere. YMCG Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma believes Bach’s music contains truth, trust, and service – the core values of culture. According to Ma, “Culture gives us the tools to discern and express truths about ourselves and our world in ways that others can understand, even if they’re not people we know. It helps us communicate with each other in ways that build understanding and therefore trust. And it does so in a way that – at its best – is focused on the other person, not ourselves. In other words, culture is an offering or a service that ultimately aims to help someone else.” Yo-Yo Ma brings Bach’s inspiration to YMCG. In the complex and complicated international political and cultural environment, he tries to explore the possibility of communication between humans and Bach’s music, sowing the spiritual seeds of peace and tolerance for the young generation.

The theme of Bach’s music ran through all the training and performances during YMCG, including the opening and closing concert program, chamber music training, and the “Silkroad Bands.” Among them, the improvisation training of the Silkroad Bands is an attempt to use folk dance music, which was borrowed and quoted by Bach and was popular in European courts during the Baroque era, as the theme of the lessons, exploring the spirit of 18th Century Baroque music composition through the improvisation of the 21st Century.

In addition to the opening and closing concerts which were both programmed around Bach’s music, four events were hosted at Xinghai Concert Hall: two chamber music salons and two “Music + Dialogue” events which explored Bach’s music and cultural spirit from different perspectives. The first “Music + Dialogue” explored the truth of playing music, how creators and performers create meanings for others through choices. The other one explored how music, especially Bach’s music, brings meaning to people, and further inspires people to give back to society and to follow their true heart. These two events were open to the public and was hosted at the Chamber Hall of Xinghai Concert Hall. Both events were full with an enthusiastic audience. Some audience members had traveled to Guangzhou from other cities, proving the wide influence of YMCG throughout the region.

Yo-Yo Ma and YMCG Musicians Perform Throughout Guangzhou
Yo-Yo Ma, together with 2020 YMCG Orchestra members and the Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra, performed at six landmarks of Guangzhou. Bringing Bach’s timeless classic Unaccompanied Cello Suite and excerpts of a Brandenburg Concerto together with a traditional quintet work with Cantonese instruments called Five Heads and other newly adapted classical music pieces onstage. The musicians expressed moving scenes of viewing the world, retaining nostalgia in Guangzhou, an international metropolis that blends tradition and modern styles.

The six landmarks performed at were: the Diamond Park at Ersha Island, Zhixin High School, the 450M Viewing Deck of the Canton Tower, Shamian Main Street, the Yongqing Fang urban neighborhood, and the Cantonese Opera Art Museum. The six points spread out from the west to the east, from the Pearl River to the top of the city, connecting the path of development of modern Guangzhou. Yo-Yo Ma and the young musicians “checked in” at these six landmarks, left moving moments, and highlighted the concept of combining culture and travel.

Yo-Yo Ma and Long Yu talked with students about music at Zhixin High School. Maestro Yu said, “When we play music, don’t worry too much. Just enjoy it.” Yo-Yo Ma left teachers and students unforgettable memories by playing the Prelude of Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 3 and Mongolian Long Tune. On top of Canton Tower, young musicians from YMCG performed an excerpt from Brandenburg Concerto and the Cantonese work, Steps Up. A tourist from Shandong Province said, “Running into Yo-Yo Ma here… it’s fate!”

At the Cantonese Opera Art Museum, young musicians performed Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 juxtaposed with Cantonese music Raindrop Pattering Plantain Leaves and Steps Up, plus Five Heads performed by a traditional quintet of Cantonese instruments. Yo-Yo Ma played Unaccompanied Cello Suites No. 1 and 6 to conclude the performance. A college student who was at the Cantonese Opera Art Museum, Li said, “What a surprise to run into Bach and Yo-Yo Ma!” Bach and Cantonese music were performed “hand in hand” – classic west meets traditional east. The integration of cultures was reflected in an innovative and brilliant performance on the Cantonese Opera Arts Museum stage.

Yo-Yo Ma with GSYO
The Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra (GSYO) played an important role during this year’s YMCG. During the opening concert, audience members listened to Yo-Yo Ma play Bach with GSYO for the first time, a great affirmation to the GSYO. The Editor from BBC Music Magazine Oliver Condy commented: “Throughout last night’s concert, fresh life was breathed into the music of Bach – not just by the fantastic arrangements, but by the passion and dedication of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra. The future of Chinese orchestral music is all but guaranteed in the hands of this talented family of musicians. And their conductor, Jing Huan, is a huge star in the ascendant, one surely to take her musicians to great heights.”

When the GSYO got on stage with Ma and other young musicians and performed with the professional sound they are known for to Guangzhou citizens, Ma was thoroughly impressed. The most unforgettable moment was the evening of January 17, a mini concert presented by students from Children’s Foundation Program (founded by GSYO in March 2019), when Yo-Yo Ma played with the cello section who had been learning an instrument for just eight months. Ma praised them, “I really love the kids’ performance. They are our future. The performance training they received is exactly how the training should be. They are so lucky to have Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra as their very strong support system.”

Besides the encounters with all three levels of the GSYO, Ma also interviewed college students during YMCG, talking about his experience of playing Bach at the underground tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider at the Swiss-French border. He discussed employment issues with foreign language students who love music and explored the description of hope in Bach’s music. Equal and diverse cultural communication takes place at every corner of YMCG.

With the last note of the 2020 YMCG Closing Concert, the fourth YMCG concluded. It was infused with a cultural philosophy and cultural spirit spanning societies and creating a future together. YMCG is an innovative and far-reaching attempt to build a community of human destiny. Under the leadership of Yo-Yo Ma, Long Yu, and the YMCG faculty, young musicians from different regions at home and abroad are learning to absorb advanced and open cultural thinking and artistic qualities, showing the world a vivid image of China today, and demonstrating the charm of the vibrant province of Guangdong.

The next YMCG is scheduled to return in January 2021.

by BWW News Desk Jan. 30, 2020