Shanghai Orchestra signs partnership with New York Philharmonic

WQXR-FM Blog, 8/15/11

In what appears to be a pioneering venture for both parties, the New York Philharmonic has signed an agreement with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to collaborate on a new orchestral training institute in Shanghai, as well as a series of touring exchanges and joint commissioning of new works. The training institute, set to launch in 2013 around the opening of a new concert hall for the Shanghai Symphony. The education partnership will be part of a larger exchange that will see touring as well as co-commissions. The latter have already begun to take shape with One Sweet Morning, a song cycle by John Corigliano that gets its premiere in New York on September 30 before traveling to Shanghai on May 26. Officials hinted that future commissions will bring new Chinese works to New York. A bulletin on the Shanghai government web site notes that the partnership gives the Shanghai Symphony "more opportunities to perform on the international stage and gain experiences to become a world-class orchestra." Certainly, in an increasingly competitive landscape among China's orchestras and conservatories, Western affiliations are seen as a way to burnish an organization's image. And many of the New York musicians have the necessary credentials, already active as teachers at elite colleges and conservatories. The Philharmonic initiative comes on the heels of Lincoln Center's recent announcement that it will partner with a Chinese company to build a multimillion-dollar performing arts center in Tianji.


Leading Chinese auction houses set sights on London, while rival plans for IPO

The Art Newspaper, 8/26/11

China Guardian Auctions, the second biggest auction house by revenues in China, may open a branch in London. Kou Qin, the vice-president of the company, said it is "considering" opening an office in the UK capital, although he did not give a time frame. He was speaking at a seminar organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies, in partnership with the China Association of Auctioneers, in London in July, as part of a collaborative programme to introduce professional guidelines to China. Meanwhile, Poly International Auctions, China Guardian's bigger rival, has announced plans for an Initial Public Offering -- a launch on the stock markets -- in early 2012, according to Skate's, the market research firm. Such a move "may increase mainland China market transparency", said Stifel Nicolaus, the Baltimore stock market research firm.


Hollywood sees the future of movies... in China

Frederik Balfour and Ronald Grover, Bloomberg News, 8/22/11

Bruce Willis's mob hit-man travels to the future in next year's movie Looper. Thanks to backing from Beijing's DMG Entertainment, that future is in China. DMG funded the production on condition the location was moved from France and a role was included for Chinese star Xu Qing. The requirements weren't just to tap China's burgeoning cinema audience. With the changes, the movie now qualifies as a Chinese co-production, exempting it from the nation's 20-film-per-year import quota and allowing backers to keep three times as much in box office receipts. Looper is one of a rising wave of Sino-U.S. productions as Hollywood looks to expand in a market that's adding more than 1,400 cinema screens a year. "Everyone is coming in to join the bandwagon," says Hong Kong-based Bill Kong, who co-produced the 2000 hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. "Ten years ago if you made $3 million in China you would be jumping up and down. Today it's more like one or two hundred million." Box office receipts in China grew 64% last year to $1.6 billion. While that's still a fraction of the $10.6 billion receipts in the U.S., it's one of the biggest potential growth markets for Hollywood. U.S. ticket sales fell 0.3% in 2010. Part of what changed the industry was the government's realization that China could help spread the nation's culture abroad by limiting the entry of foreign movies and encouraging made-in-China joint productions. "China is keen on promoting its soft power," Shen Dingli, professor at Shanghai's Fudan University said. Joint productions serve "the political purpose to promote our culture and systems with Hollywood's competence."


A comedy about Hitler is China's latest successful retelling of Western stories

Isaac Stone Fish, Tablet magazine, 8/24/11

Hitler's Belly, a hit play currently touring China, answers the eternal question of what the world's most notorious dictator looks like when portrayed by an overweight Chinese man pretending to be pregnant. It mixes snippets from Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, old newsreel footage, slapstick with Chinese sensibilities, and an extended fart joke. Genocide is not mentioned. Meng Jinghui, the play's shaggy-haired director, has enjoyed a long string of successes adapting foreign concepts to Chinese audiences. He brought Rent to China as the story of a missing real-estate tycoon. "We don't have bohemia, we don't have so many drug users or gay people, and we don't do threesomes. So we use your structure, and we put our lives into it." Hitler's Belly declines to tackle questions of Judaism, focusing instead on issues relevant to a Chinese audience: corruption in the Ministry of Railways, lies from the government, and the difficulty of affording a house. Many artists prefer to satirize the present in China by criticizing the past. The play, which has toured Shanghai, Beijing, and will be in Guangzhou in October, has played almost exclusively to packed houses [of] people in their 20s and 30s, constantly laughing and clapping at the satire and slapstick. Hitler isn't known for the Holocaust, but rather for achieving social stability with a very high human cost. "In general, they refer to him as very lihai, very hardcore, someone who is strong, powerful," said Rabbi Nussin Rodin, a Chabad representative in Beijing. "You can be strong and powerful and good, and strong and powerful and bad. It's weird. I don't know what to say." Bizarrely, support for Hitler does not in any way suggest disdain for Jews. On the contrary: Chinese people on the whole are very approving of Judaism, seeing Jews as experts in both moneymaking and child rearing, with a strong tradition of education.


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Recently freed artist Ai Weiwei breaks his silence on Chinese government

Reuters, 8/29/11

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has launched his first scathing attack on the Chinese government since his release from secretive detention in late June, accusing officials of denying citizens their basic rights. In a strongly worded commentary published Sunday on Newsweek's website, Ai - whose detention prompted an international outcry - branded the capital, Beijing, as "a city of violence". He criticised the government for rampant corruption, the judicial system and its policy on migrant workers, all issues that have inflamed social tensions in China. Ai's commentary signals his growing impatience with the strict terms of his release from 81 days in captivity in late June. It also presents Beijing with a direct challenge on how to handle the country's most famous social critic. Under the conditions of Ai's release, he is not allowed to be interviewed by journalists, meet foreigners, use the internet or interact with human rights advocates for a year. Despite this, the artist has spoken out on his Twitter account on behalf of detained dissidents and his associates who were also held during his incarceration. They have since been released. The artist, famed for his work on the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium in Beijing, was the most internationally well-known of those detained, and his family has repeatedly said he was targeted for his outspoken criticism of censorship and Communist party controls. In the Newsweek article, Ai wrote that none of his art represents Beijing. "The Bird's Nest - I never think about it," he wrote. "After the Olympics, the common folks don't talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people." He previously had said he would never emigrate, but the latest article left that in question. "Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die," he wrote. "I really don't know what I'm going to do."

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