Yo-Yo Ma’s musicianship and virtuosity have helped turn him into one of classical music’s best-known figures worldwide. But we are blessed with many gifted musicians; what makes the celebrated cellist stand out further is his lifelong dedication to spanning and linking the world’s musical traditions. His long-running Silk Road Project is one prominent example, the Americana band Goat Rodeo another. And I admit that one of my favorite Yo-Yo Ma albums is called Soul of the Tango.
What many Westerners may not know is that Ma is also the artistic director of Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG), an annual multi-day event celebrating young musicians. Classical Music has described the festival as “a key fixture in China’s cultural calendar.” Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province in southern China, was an important terminus of the original Silk Road. Today the city hosts the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra (GSO), which together with Xinghai Concert Hall organizes YMCG, now in its sixth year. The 2022 edition runs January 16–23.
Last year’s YMCG was held virtually and drew 1.63 million views. This year the festival will be presented both in person and online, with participants including the renowned Shanghai Quartet, Michael Stern, Long Yu, and many more. The first of its six concerts, January 16 at Xinghai Concert Hall’s Symphony Hall, will include music by Gustav Holst, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Ottorino Respighi under the direction of Jing Huan, Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Conductor and Guangzhou Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director.
At the closing concert January 23, young musicians who are veterans of YMCG and currently in China will join three groups of young string quartets from the China Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (SSO), and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra (GSO) to form the YMCG Symphony Orchestra. The program includes Beethoven’s Sixth “Pastoral” Symphony and, with Yo-Yo Ma joining the orchestra via video, Antonin Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka.
In between, chamber music takes the spotlight. The Shanghai Quartet, acting as YMCG’s chamber music instructors, will hold simulcast master classes virtually from Tianjin on January 16, 18, and 19, and present Beethoven string quartets at three concerts on January 17, 18, and 19 that will be broadcast to the world. The three young quartets from the CPO, SSO, and GSO will then give a public performance from Guangzhou on January 20 at Xinghai Concert Hall.
This year’s YMCG also includes community outreach, with musicians visiting various Guangzhou locations to connect with the city’s cultural roots. And a January 21 online discussion will feature Yo-Yo Ma in Boston, celebrated conductor Michael Stern in New York, and conductor and GSO music director Long Yu in Hong Kong. They will meet with festival participants in Guangzhou, including the YMCG Orchestra, GSO President Chen Qing, and conductor Jing Huan, on the theme of “Music Unbounded: Current and Future-Oriented Musicians and Musical Life.”
The discussion will explore how musicians, especially young ones, can innovate and maintain integrity in the context of today’s unprecedented global opportunities and challenges. Maintaining and strengthening cultural ties around the world is especially urgent in a time of restricted travel. YMCG is one of the year’s premiere opportunities for just that. Check this space in the coming days for further coverage of Youth Music Culture Guangdong.