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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

Shanghai Surprise

Having already seen Guo Wenjing rooting through his photos in an old shoebox last spring, I was a bit wary of visiting the Shanghai Symphony a few days later. This was, after all, the most established of China’s classical music institutions and (I’d thought) probably one of the most victimized by the Red Guards’ purge of Western culture. To my surprise, the orchestra’s archivist, Yang Zhaoying, was very much in touch with both the institution’s history and the latest technologies. When I asked about using some specific photos from her files, she looked up and asked, “JPEG okay?”

Clearly, this is not the old Shanghai Symphony. The orchestra, which just opened its 130th concert season on September 26, is now in the midst of a major overhaul under its new music director, Long Yu. More on these changes later; for now, check out the SSO slideshow and (starting from photo 13) see how the orchestra functioned during the Cultural Revolution, when concert halls were effectively shut down and the orchestra took music “to the people,” playing for peasants in the villages, soldiers in the fields, and a variety of what today we’d call “alternative venues,” including a shipyard and various sites of political rallies.

Posted by Ken Smith

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