Hub Music Group celebrates “Chinese Art and Culture” Boston Music Festival Orchestra conductor talks about the history of the performance and orchestra

Sampan sits with Alyssa Wang, conductor of the Boston Music Festival Orchestra. Wang discusses the orchestra’s upcoming show, “A Celebration of Chinese Arts and Culture,” as well as her thoughts on inclusion and participation in music, and what it means to her as a Chinese-American leading a show. The BFO “Chinese Art and Culture Celebration” will be held at 3 pm on July 28th at Jordan Hall in Boston.
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Sampan: Can you tell us about the Boston Festival Orchestra, your role in the orchestra, and the upcoming program “Chinese Arts and Culture Celebration”?
Wang Jingwen: I am the co-founder, artistic director and conductor of the Boston Festival Orchestra. This is a project that is very close to my heart. We are relatively new. We were founded at the beginning of the pandemic and our first season was delayed because of the pandemic, however, we were able to come back and what we have now is a really interesting year-round program of some chamber music, some opera, some education plan. This all culminates in our Summer Stage Series, a season of performances where we perform with a full orchestra – conducted by me. Part of the mission of the Boston Festival Orchestra is to really try and revolutionize what it means for people to engage with music, especially classical music. We’re always looking for ways to present music in fresh, exciting and approachable ways. This means that many of our concerts include cultural elements, interdisciplinary elements, audience interaction elements and more. Our concerts really do not follow a standard or orchestral pattern. There’s a lot of engagement on stage, we do a lot of demos, and we care deeply about our audience, who have a personal experience with the music. We want to give them a context for the music and give them the tools they need to truly understand where it comes from. ‘Why is this important today?’ Then we discover that music is a way in which we can use the skills of artists to connect our communities and make real connections as a community.
As Artistic Director, I curate programming and I am very passionate about showcasing the diversity that exists in the world of classical music, often in the form of composers both old and new. We record music from all over the world and from different time periods. This makes our concerts very exciting… the “Chinese Art and Culture Festival”… is a rare combination of Chinese arts performing on the same stage. I will be hosting the program. This episode features a very special solo piano piece, “Er Huang,” composed by living Chinese composer Chen Qigang and performed by Chinese pianist and BFO resident pianist Li Ruoting.
We have the trinity of a Chinese conductor, a Chinese composer and a Chinese performer. When I first discovered this piano concerto, I was really excited because it perfectly integrated Chinese folk songs, very popular Chinese folk songs, into the tapestry of a classical orchestra. What you’re going to hear is all the typical orchestral instruments playing these beautifully arranged Chinese folk songs along with a piano solo, sort of tying them all together. I am really pleased to be able to take this opportunity to introduce the beauty of Chinese music to our wider audience, and our performance on the stage of this concert is very important in every aspect. It was such an honor to be able to share that moment with everyone.

Sampan: You’ve touched on this a little bit, but how did your identity as a Chinese American affect you when you were working on this project?
Alyssa Wang: I think this is the first time I’ve really been at the forefront of a concert as a Chinese-American musician, and I’ve never really had a lot of opportunities to play music about China or about China. . Whenever I use my artistic voice to highlight Chinese art, it is a rare and precious opportunity. Honestly, I feel really honored to be able to step on stage and let my identity speak for itself and be proud to be Chinese American. So, yeah, it’s very special to me.

Sampan: Your website says you focus on audience inclusivity and engagement. How do you do this?
Alyssa Wang: My approach to performing is not to assume that the audience is an expert in the music that I play, because they often are not. The average concert hall goer might be interested in classical music, might have heard of Beethoven or Mozart, but not really know any details about the music or any history. They are there simply because they want to hear something beautiful, think about art and music, and experience something profound.
Whenever I perform, I always try to give the audience the tools they need to have a profound experience. This can be as simple as interacting with the audience outside of the music you play. I find the model of going on stage and playing, everyone applauding, and then you leave to be very dehumanizing and makes people who don’t know much about classical music feel excluded from the process because they feel like if they don’t enjoy the process experience, they Something is missing, or they’re not educated enough on it, or they don’t know enough about it to appreciate it. This attitude is the conclusion some viewers get: “I don’t know enough to appreciate the elitism that comes from the classical music industry.” I think this is very important not only for the survival of the industry, but for us as a community to communicate with each other, It’s important to really provide as much interaction as possible for our audience. This way, when you play, they feel like they’re there with you, and you feel like you’re taking them on a journey. You must provide them with the equipment they need to continue their journey. Otherwise, they will be left in the dust.
I have been planning concerts very carefully over the years by talking to the audience. I plan the concert and put a lot of thought into what the program is, what I have to say and how it all connects. This way, you don’t feel like you’re looking at some dead artifact in a museum, but rather feel like you’re experiencing something alive and relevant to you. Even though this was music written 300 years ago, I’m still trying to explain to the audience why they should care, and there are many, many ways to do that. We want to involve people in the process.
(In addition) We are doing “act according to our ability” (ticket model). If you go into the ticketing website and buy a ticket, you can, if you’re willing to pay $5 for a ticket, you can do that. Or $0, you can do that too. We keep the ticket price in the hands of the ticket buyer, which allows us to make this concert super accessible. We want to really engage the city’s Chinese community and have everyone come out and celebrate this culture that’s been such an impact on Boston, especially in Chinatown. It’s also special to me because I have a long family history in Boston and Boston’s Chinatown. In a way, it feels like the first time I’ve been able to actually stand on a stage and say, look at all the ways that I’m proud to be from this community and represent this community.

Sampan: What would you like to say to potential viewers who want to see the show?
Jingwen Wang: I guess I would say this concert is for everyone and you should come. Whether you are a lover of classical music or someone new to it, all are welcome to attend this concert. We really want to share the beauty and majesty of Chinese art and culture with people. I hope people will be curious to listen to this beautiful piece, learn something new about the music, and take advantage of the pay-as-you-go ticket model.

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