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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

From the Other Side of the World

Don't tell anyone, but I'm back in China. I made sure I was in Beijing last Friday for the closing of the Beijing Music Festival, which became a 30th anniversary celebration for both Isaac Stern's From Mao to Mozart tour as well as the resumption of Sino-American relations.

Murray Lerner's 1980 Oscar-winning documentary still resonates today, although seeing it in China has as much resonance with the current times as seeing a black-and-white Depression-era film in New York. You see it as part of the historic continuum, though you're not always sure how we got to the present day.

As befits their audience and their resources, both the BMF and Carnegie Hall's Ancient Paths, Modern Voices answer that question in separate ways. The BMF led with the players themselves, reuniting seven of the soloists who had originally played for Stern as soloists with the China Philharmonic conducted by the violinist's son, David. The stage was flanked by high-definition video screens; the musicians performed Beethoven's Triple Concerto and a Vivaldi four-violin concerto, often in visual counterpoint with their youthful selves playing for Stern in 1979.

The range of players gathered conveyed the breadth of China's past 30 years in the classical music world. Not only did the evening feature a handful of star soloists (including cellist Jian Wang and violinist Vera Tsu), but also professional chamber musicians (Weigang Li of the Shanghai Quartet) and orchestra players from abroad (Pittsburgh Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Hong-Guang Jia and Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Yun Tang).

Carnegie Hall's festival, on the other hand, fleshes out the history of Sino-US cultural exchange more fully on the screen. In conjunction with The Paley Center for Media, Ancient Paths, Modern Voices leads with a screening of From Mao to Mozart on November 7. The next day features CBS coverage of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's 1979 tour, PBS journalist Bill Moyers's 1983 coverage of Arthur Miller directing the first Chinese production of Death of a Salesman, and a 2008 documentary of dancer-choreographer Jacques D'Amboise directing a cross-cultural dance ensemble, entitled The Other Side of the World.

Posted by Ken Smith

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