Orchestra in China accord

Stephen Bevis Arts Editor

The State’s flagship arts company has struck a landmark trade deal with China, thanks to the universal language of music.

Next year, the WA Symphony Orchestra will tour to China as part of a cultural exchange program with the Beijing-based China Philharmonic Orchestra announced in Perth last night.

The Chinese orchestra will visit Perth for a combined performance with the WASO within the next few years.

It was a partnership that shaped to be one of the most significant relationships any Western orchestra has had with China, WASO chairman Janet Holmes a Court said.

CPO president Li Nan said greater cultural understanding must grow in tandem with increased economic ties between the two countries.

Under the program involving the Australia China Business Council (WA), the two orchestras will swap musicians and expertise, perform in schools and hospitals and run classes at the
University of WA and the Beijing Conservatory of Music.

The community interaction would be one of the program’s most important elements, Mrs Holmes a Court said.

“This will touch many more lives than just those who attend the concerts in Beijing and Perth, and foster a greater understanding of each other’s culture, which will form the glue that binds our two economically dependent countries into the future,” she said.

“It is one way we can learn about other cultures. If we could have exchanges with Indonesia or similar type of a culture foreign to ours it would be a huge advantage.”

The orchestra last toured to China in 2006, when it visited five cities.

“The difference this time is that it is not a fly-in, fly-out situation,” Mrs Holmes a Court said. “It is fly-in, stay for a while, have our senior musicians linked to musicians from China, do master-classes, work together and perform together. It is a long-term association and that makes it much more interesting, much more important and we will learn a lot more.”

The WASO has accepted an invitation perform at the Beijing Music Festival in October 2016
The first notes of the accord were struck in December when three WASO musicians performed with the CPO in China.

“The result was universally acclaimed as a concert of the highest artistic standards,” Mr Li said. “We look forward to sending our musicians and management staff to Perth next month to continue our cultural voyage together,” he said.

“As the economic relationship between China and Australia, particularly Western Australia grows to ever greater levels it is most important that cultural understanding grows strongly as well.”

The project was launched at the Australia China Business Council (WA)’s Chinese New Year Dinner at Crown Perth.

Council president Adam Handley said the program took the level of engagement between China and Australia to a new level.

“Orchestras have come to China on many occasions,” Mr Handley said. “Many lament the lack of enduring relationships created during those visits.”

The Federal and State governments have each contributed $50,000 to the initial stages of the program through the Australia Council and the Department of Culture and the Arts.

Last month, visiting US expert Professor Cynthia Schneider said arts and creativity were under-exploited WA resources that could help boost trade, diplomacy and raise export horizons after the mining boom.

The “soft power” of cultural diplomacy, tours, artist exchanges and international collaborations could deepen trust and open doors for trade, Professor Schneider told a seminar of business, arts and government leaders.

The WASO partnership follows a deal between Black Swan State Theatre and the National Theatre of China to share artistic staff and collaborate on new productions, starting with Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle next year.

Black Swan recently hosted a second visit to Perth by NTC artistic director Wang Xiaoying, who also is vice-chairman of the China Theatre Association.

“The important thing about our project, and I think it is the same at the WASO, is that it is a collaboration between the two companies and it is not just about touring the work over there,” Black Swan general manager Natalie Jenkins said.

“To work collaboratively, you need to build relationships first and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 18 months,” Ms Jenkins said.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle – to coincide with the WA State theatre company’s 25th anniversary - was expected to be the first of several joint Black Swan-NTC productions, she said.

“We want to generate cross-cultural global collaborations to give our artists the opportunity to work with artists outside Australia. It is an enduring relationship that we are hoping for.”