A HISTORICAL GALA: Pope Benedict XVI attends a concert of the China Philharmonic Orchestra at the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican on May 7, 2008 (CFP)
After a month-long series of celebrative concerts, the China Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) finally welcomed its 10th birthday on May 25, 2010, with a grand concert at the Beijing Poly Theater.
The gala show, with the theme of "East Meets West in Operas," showcased the CPO's successful experiment in combining China's traditional Peking Opera with Western symphonic form and demonstrated the orchestra's crossover ability and growing mastery of world classics.
In 10 years, the CPO has developed into one of Asia's leading symphony ensembles. The growth of the orchestra has also coincided with the development of symphonic music in China.
Starting the journey
Based on the former China Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, the CPO was established on May 25, 2000, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the history of symphonic music in the country. From its very beginning, the orchestra set an objective of becoming the top-ranking at home, among the best in Asia, and well-known in the world.
Yu Long was invited to be the artistic director and principal conductor of the orchestra for his achievement in conducting, as well as his experience in performing in Western countries.
"I was hesitant when I received the invitation because I was then 36 years old and had no experience of being an artistic director of a large orchestra," Yu said. "And back then, the environment for classical music in China wasn't as good as it is now."
Yu finally accepted the invitation, as he wished to help spread and develop classical music in the country.
Born into a family of musicians in Shanghai in 1964, Yu started his education in music since childhood. He first learned music from his grandfather Ding Shande, a renowned composer. Later he studied music at Shanghai Conservatory and then Berlin University of the Arts.
In 1992, he was appointed a principal guest conductor at the China National Opera House in Beijing. In the same year, he was involved in the initiation of the Beijing New Year's Concert and served as conductor for three successive years.
"In the early 1990s, symphonic music was still in a burgeoning stage in China," Yu recalled. "For most Chinese people, attending a New Year's Concert was their only chance to appreciate live classical music."
In 1998, Yu helped initiate the Beijing Music Festival and was appointed its artistic director. His talent in both art and management has played a pivotal role in making the festival one of the most significant musical events in the country.
The experience accumulated in these artistic and administrative activities helped Yu direct the newly born CPO.
In line with the world practice, the CPO chose to contract its players from both China and other parts of the world, the first orchestra to do so in China.
"Such a talent-recruiting method brought challenge and pressure to the orchestra, as well as new vitality," Yu said.
By the end of July 2000, the CPO had contracted 111 players.
On December 16, 2000, the CPO, under the baton of Yu, presented its grand debut in Beijing, which was a great success.
As a new orchestra, the CPO was badly in need of new methods to cope with challenges in improving performance, getting funds and reforming the management of the orchestra.
"Being professional is the only way to breathe vitality into an orchestra," said Li Nan, Deputy Director of the CPO. The leadership of the orchestra determined to change the old working style by employing many strict disciplines, such as requiring all members to attend rehearsals on time, or be fined.
The orchestra has a high requirement on the artistic level of players.
"If someone constantly fails to meet the requirements of performance, the player will have to attend a special exam. If failing to pass the exam, the player will be asked to leave the CPO," Li said.
Moreover, the orchestra also makes requests about performance image, including gestures and clothes of the players.
"We require our players to wear black dress suits when performing, even including the requirement about the color of socks," Li said.
Since its establishment, the CPO has planned to develop its own music seasons.
On September 1, 2001, the CPO's first music season kicked off, showing the orchestra had started walking on the way of professionalization and internationalization.
"Having its own music seasons is an important symbol for a professional orchestra," said Yu. "Music seasons represent an orchestra's working plans and its commitment to society."