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Classical music in China: “More popular than Jesus?” Well, not really.

Here’s the piece I wrote, for my old pals at Maclean’s magazine, on western myths surrounding the popularity of classical music in China. For the story I followed the National Arts Centre Orchestra around during the Beijing leg of its China tour earlier this month, and I talked to a lot of conservatory profs across the country, from Guangzhou to Chengdu. I shot the above in the concert hall at Tsinghua University, a prestigious school located in Beijing’s north end, just a few minutes before the NACO performance began.

You’ll notice that there are still many empty seats here. Don’t let this fool you: the halls in Beijing do fill up, but many spectators arrive after the music starts, likely a function of the city’s horrendous traffic. Even the NACO was late for this show. And yes, there were many more young people in the audience, here and elsewhere, than you’d see at classical music performances in North America and Europe. At the Tianjin Grand Theatre, on the coast just south of Beijing, I also saw many more people dead-to-the-world asleep in their seats.

The story spends some time on crowd-management strategies at Chinese concert halls, where ushers are equipped with laser devices to publicly shame unruly spectators. Wait for the security guards I describe at the Beijing Zoo, cordoning off an area around a trio of NACO musicians there to serenade the pandas: the bouncers were apparently dispatched to protect the instrumentalists from marauding toddlers.

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