Monday, June 08, 2009

Will Asians save classical music?

The results from the 13th Van Cliburn piano competition may just validate an intuition I have had for some time now. If classical music (I know the term is imprecise, but most people still have a rough idea of what it means when you use it) is to survive another generation or two, it may be Asians that save it. The top finishers in this year's Van Cliburn competition were Noboyuki Tsujii, 20, of Japan, and Haochen Jhang, 19, of China, who shared first prize, while Yeol Eum Son, 23, of South Korea won the silver medal. Finishing well in the Cliburn competition usually leads to an international career.

This is an interesting irony. Although I would make a case that what we call classical music is universal in appeal, it is (despite some signal contributions from elsewhere) quintessentially a Western European art form. But it went global long ago, and it sometimes seems as if Asians respond to it with more skill and artistry than almost anybody else (especially if you include Asian-Americans). Apparently Asian parents are more inclined to pressure children into learning to play traditional classical instruments. Among prominent virtuosi, think of Yo Yo Ma, Midori, Sarah Chang, Lang Lang, Young-Dae Park and others. I have CDs played by symphony orchestras from Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul and Singapore, and all are excellent technically and artistically.

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