The Music in the Summer Air Festival Proves Show Must Go On

Monday, July 13th, 2020

The 11th Music in the Summer Air (MISA) festival — themed “Reunion” — will return to the Shanghai Symphony Hall and Shanghai Urban Music Lawn on July 20. 

With performances every day through July 29, the festival’s program will cover a rich musical spectrum, from classic masterpieces by Beethoven and Stravinsky to reinvented and new compositions involving cross-boundary artists in pop, jazz, new folk music and many others. Half the concerts will take place on the outdoor lawn.

Many popular music festivals have been canceled or postponed since the coronavirus outbreak. Musicians are currently unable to travel to most countries, and many top symphony orchestras have canceled their tours.

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, MISA’s host, will exercise virus-control measures, such as using only 30 percent of the venue’s maximum seating capacity for each show.

Most concerts will be performed at 7pm and 9pm each evening to accommodate more people.

Every performance will be broadcast live or uploaded to the web. The symphony orchestra began putting some of its live concerts online in 2018, but that has accelerated this year due to the pandemic.

“We conducted quite a few ‘cloud’ concerts before the symphony orchestra returned to live performances with audiences,” said Zhou Ping, head of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. “It was so exciting to be back in the concert hall with a live audience that I almost cried. But the 30 percent restriction makes it difficult for many fans to experience it live, so the ‘cloud’ format is a good complement.”

The New York Philharmonic, a long-time partner with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and veteran guest performer at the festival, will be part of an online symphony orchestra with students from the Shanghai Orchestra Academy, performing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 in B minor, “Pathetique,” in a video format.

Musicians from the Philharmonic will also give online masterclasses during the festival.

Some musicians have channeled their experiences during the pandemic into music.

Pianist Song Siheng will perform “Pandemic Diary of Music” with pop singer Huo Zun.

“It’s a special composition I created during the pandemic, and Huo gave me many suggestions and inspired me in many ways,” Song said. “It’s an experiment for us trying to record life through music and deliver a message of love and warmth through melodies.”

The summer music festival has always been a stage where boundaries are crossed, different art forms and genres fused and more experimental voices heard.

This year’s program had to be reconfigured with great difficulty and within a short period of time, but the spirit of the festival has been preserved, exhibited in the festival’s repertoire and guests.

It will open with a concert featuring fusion singer Gong Linna, best known for her unique style and collaboration with her husband, German composer Robert Zollitsch, reinventing traditional melodies and ancient poems.

Under the baton of music director Yu Long, the orchestra and Gong will provide a dialogue between Western classics from Sibelius and Stravinsky and Chinese new folk music composed by Zollitsch.

The festival will close with “Dunhuang: Buddha Passion,” composer and conductor Tan Dun’s 2019 masterpiece inspired by ancient Buddhist murals in Mogao Caves in northwest China’s Gansu Province.

The six-part oratorio includes six stories Tan picked from those depicted in the murals. He once described the piece as his “attempt to turn Dunhuang murals into sounds we can hear. If we revert back to history and review our culture, we will find spiritual power in what we experience.”

Several musicians will debut new works at the festival, including James Li, a classically trained singer and composer.

Li will collaborate with the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra’s string ensemble to perform both his signature songs and his latest works, including “Decameron.”

“It was just recorded and has not been released yet,” Li said, adding he is a long-time fan of the festival and happy to perform some of his songs at it for the first time.

The festival also includes a concert commemorating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a series of his lesser-known pieces.

In “The Distant Beethoven” concert, bass-baritone Shen Yang will pay tribute to the maestro through a series of folk songs rearranged or adapted by Beethoven.

“After experiencing a very special and difficult first half of the year, we are more aware of the importance of music,” Shen said. “I can’t wait to share great music with a live audience.”

The Hubei Provincial Opera and Dance Theater is another special guest, its first visit to Shanghai since the lockdown in Wuhan. The troupe will play a concert version of the Chinese-style opera “Honghu Red Guards.”

The Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, Kunming Nie’Er Symphony Orchestra, Lanzhou Concert Hall Choir and many others from around China will perform as well.

“The pandemic was heartbreaking for everyone, but it taught us how precious normal happiness is,” music director Yu said.

The festival will continue its arts education projects this year while launching two new online programs — “Finding Mozart” and “I Want Lalala.”

The interactive online programs encourage viewers to experiment with new ways to compose music.

By: Yao Minji Xu Ziqing

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