Melody maker

12:56, February 08, 2011      

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There is very good business in cultivating culture, according to Gianluca Zanon, whose job is to bring Europe's top performers to China. "For every 1 euro you invest in cultural activities, you get a 4 to 12 euro return on your investment," he says. "There is the transportation to and from the venue, there is the tourism part, where people come to a city to see a show, then people who see the concerts go out and have dinner."

"Then after the concert you might buy the CD, and if you enjoy the piece, you might want to know more about the composer, so you buy a book."

Zanon says he is surprised that so many governments around the world cut their funding of the arts when economic times get tough because "this was such a limited view, economically speaking".

For the past four years, Zanon has been helping write the artistic programming for Wu Promotions and choosing European artists to appear at the best concert halls around the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao across a network of 30 Chinese cities.

China opened its doors to wide-scale classical musical tours in 1993 and each year the shows get bigger and better.

Last year Wu Promotions held more than 500 cultural events including piano recitals, chamber music, modern dance, classical ballet, symphony orchestras, choirs, opera productions, theater and jazz shows.

Highlights included the Asian debut of Cologne Opera House production, The Ring of Nibelung, at the Shanghai Grand Theater, Don Giovanni at the National Center of Performing Arts in Beijing as well as the on stage collaboration between the Italian Filarmonica della Scala and young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang under the baton of maestro Semyon Bychkov at the Shanghai World Expo.

But some acts play a more diplomatic role, such as the grand performances of Cullberg Ballet of Sweden, Basel Symphony Orchestra of Switzerland and Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir of Denmark, which celebrated their nations' 60th anniversary of relations with China.

Zanon says it takes about 18 months of planning to bring over one artist.

"The artists that I select and sign for touring are then promoted in China and presented in most of the venues that China has to offer," he says.

"As you can imagine, it's for me an immense honor as a foreigner to be responsible for such a choice," he says.

But Wu Promotions also takes Chinese performers to Europe and last year Zanon toured with one of China's most famous conductors, Long Lu, and the Guangzhou Sympony Orchestra.

"The Italians still don't know how good the Chinese performers have become," Zanon says.

"There is still the perception that the Chinese are technically perfect, and that is a wonderful and horrible clich.

"There is one thing to play the notes and there is another to interpret the notes."

But then a violin soloist like Ning Feng comes along and dazzles everyone by his powerful performances of Tchaikovsky.

"The European audiences were completely mesmerized by him," Zanon says.

"European audiences like to hear about the Lang Langs but they just don't realize there are thousands more performers like him coming up."

Back in China, audiences are more familiar with classical music after almost 20 years of successive acts passing through. However, promoters still have to consider the market.

"We first start picking up artists that are suitable for the Chinese audiences and the big compromise is what the greatest performers of the moment and what the audience can understand," Zanon says.

"So before we start filling their ears with contemporary music we have to show them where it all started."

Zanon was born in Vicenza, in northern Italy about 40 kilometers west of Venice and, after graduating from high school, studied German, musicology and tourism management at Verona University.

He also studied in Berlin and had the opportunity to work with the national radio choir and helped write the musical program. It was this experience that helped him understand the importance of connecting the audience with the music.

"Bach and Mozart were not elitists, they were making their music for the masses, and reaching their audiences," Zanon says.

"When I was in Berlin I got this chance of working for a musical institution not only in terms of getting in touch with a younger audience but also looking at music from a managerial perspective."

But what really attracted Zanon to China was not music or management opportunities. It was purely an exotic adventure.

He arrived in Beijing in 2006 after reading a book about British tour guide pioneer Thomas Cook and being inspired by the Englishman's overseas adventures.

"It was sheer curiosity for the exotic and I didn't want a real job. I was just teaching Italian and living in China and it was all so exciting.

"But in 2007 my girlfriend said I had to get a real job so I connected with Wu Promotions and started bringing classical music to China."

This year's annual program offers a series of symphonies and choirs, dance and theater, jazz and pop, as well as piano and chamber music.

Highlights of the symphony and choir series will include performances by the historical Staatskapelle Dresden, the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, led by internationally renowned conductor David Zinman, and the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI.

The dance and theater program will combine a mix of the traditional, modern and exotic, with the Komische Opera Berlin from Germany, Canadian Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, Balleto di Roma from Italy, The Black Light Theatre from the Czech Republic and Mummenschanz from Switzerland all promising strong performances.

"Our mission is enhancing cultural exchange by actively promoting the performing arts, and exhibiting the beauty and diversity of world cultures through global events and artistic partnerships," Zanon says.

Source: China Daily
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http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90783/91321/7281163.pdf