Paying Vienna to sing

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-25 19:53:01

The audience applauds the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the <em>Musikverein</em>, Vienna, Austria, January 1, 2012. Photo: CFP

The audience applauds the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the Musikverein, Vienna, Austria, January 1, 2012. Photo: CFP

Vienna's Golden Hall has been so crammed with Chinese performers of late that a cook at a local Chinese restaurant says the cacophony is harming his ears.

Vienna's Golden Hall, or Musikverein, the traditional venue for the annual New Year Concert that for Chinese represents the pinnacle classical European music, has become Chinese musicians' and music lovers' private "karaoke room," according to a Southern Weekly report in October.

Some 133 Chinese performing art groups, campus groups and individuals have given 27 musical performances in Vienna this year, the paper wrote adding that many local Chinese said they feel overwhelmed and annoyed as they are often asked to dole out free tickets to the Austrians.

It might be not easy for the musicians of today to stand out in a city with so much musical memories, but it is not that difficult for Chinese musicians to get on the most famous stage. A rental price of a cool 20,000-30,000 euros ($27,100-40,600) can make it happen, well within reach for affluent Chinese who want to make a "golden sound in the Golden Hall."

As Golden Hall show manager Klaus Klein told Beijing Youth Daily, the Golden Hall does not certificate musicians' skills and qualification.

"We are not sure about Chinese musicians' performing ability, so as long as they can pay they can perform," he said.

Built in 1870, the Golden Hall is considered one of the top concert halls in the world, and is famous of its acoustics, which Viennese describe as the "Golden Sound in the Golden Hall." For many well-known musicians, holding a performance at the Golden Hall is a great honor.

It became famous in China after the China Central Folk Orchestra made their debut at a special New Year concert in 1998. Organizer Wu Jiatong led a team of 600 people, including 100 musicians, 50 reporters and 450 music lovers, to export Chinese folk music to Europe.

Wu said he still remembers the "golden time" they had in Vienna. He described the honors and awards that "gathered like clouds," and said that the tickets sold out in the first three days.

Since then, it has gained a reputation in China as "the highest temple of music" and seen many top Chinese musicians' perform there, such as Song Zuying, one of China's most famous sopranos in 2003.

Some insiders explained that during the Golden Hall's music season which runs from September until June, performances are usually staged by top musicians from all over the world with top quality. The rest of the time, the Golden Hall rents out the venue to make ends meet.

Musicians from Russia, Japan and Korea rent the venue for their performances, and over the years, orders from China have been increasing as many Chinese see it as a shortcut to success and a way to boast on their CV.

In 2012, a concert band organized by Beijing's Dahongmen Clothing Wholesale market held their summer concert at the Golden Hall, followed by real estate tycoon Li Haiyan from Zhejiang Province who put on her own show in September 2013.

Their performances, rarely reported by Western media, always made headlines in their hometowns.

The Yuxiu chorus of Hefei No.1 Middle School, Anhui Province, that have given performances four years in a row in "World Peace Concert" at the Golden Hall since 2010, was supposedly given awards for having the "best chorus" and the "best conducting." The local Jianghuai Morning Post described it as a great performance in which "the performers introduced Chinese music culture to the world" in 2011.

Some students stated that the awards were brought with cash, but conductor Wei Yongzhen, a local music teacher, told the reporter that "they have gained full value of joy and been influenced by classical music at the Golden Hall."

In the same year, a chorus of elderly music lovers in Hainan Province gave performance at the Golden Hall, which the local Nanguo Metropolis Daily described as "evidence to prove the power of arts in Hainan."

In response to the controversy, Huang Yu from the chorus voiced the same opinion as the music teacher. "It has been a great pleasure to give a performance there. That is enough."

But the box office doesn't value these music lovers' performances so highly.

"Once I was chatting with the owner at a Chinese restaurant in Austria, she took out a whole bunch of tickets and said every foreign customer can get two tickets for Chinese performances at the Golden Hall," Wu said.

How to give out hundreds of free tickets has become a headache for the Chinese embassy in Austria, according to Wu.

"Everyone working for the embassy has quotas to dole out free tickets," Wu said. "And they have to give it out to Austrians, not Chinese, to look good on TV."

To make the hall look occupied, members of different choruses take turns to act as audiences for each other.

The freebies have worsened the reputation of the hall. "Each year tens of thousands of tickets are being given out, who is willing to buy them?" Wu asked.

As a result, some professional musicians have to move to other concert halls. This September, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, one of the best-known classical orchestra in China, gave a performance in the Music Hall Vienna instead of the Golden Hall, which won sustained applause from the audience.

Li Kexin, Counselor for Culture of the Chinese Embassy in Austria, told he Beijing Youth Daily that an excess Chinese performances cannot contribute to spreading Chinese culture throughout Europe.

"It is not easy for Chinese professional musicians to win praise from the audience any more," Li said. "Those frequent performances have put the cultural communication between two countries into an embarrassing situation."

To make the performance look shiner, some organizers even create certificates with a fake signature from the mayor of Vienna.

"I asked the mayor if he really signed the certificate, he told me they probably have copied his signature online," Li said.

Nevertheless, such tricks still lure a lot of music lovers from China to dream big. Last month, the Tianfu Morning Post reported that some 30 parents in Sichuan Province were defrauded by an organization who promised to send their children to give performance at the Golden Hall.

For 27,800 yuan, children from one foreign primary school would be able to perform at the Golden Hall during their summer vacation, the organization promised in April, adding that parents who want to go along needed to pay another 27,800 yuan.

However, three months later, the plan was cancelled with no specific reason given. Parents are calling the police to demand refunds.

"The teacher said 'Your daughter is so talented, it would be a shame for her not to perform in Vienna,' so I agreed," said Zhong Ming, one of the parents waiting for a refund.

For many music lovers, giving a performance in the Golden Hall is just part of their tours. The whole package also includes sightseeing in neighboring countries such as Italy and France.

A staff at a local travel agency told the Southern Weekly reporter that this year some 1,300 children have joined the tour and been given certificates to honor their contributions to the world.

"The Golden Hall is the place where masters perform, but not every performer is a master," Wu said.

Global Times

Posted in: In-Depth

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