SHANGHAI – The music conservatory stands on a busy side street behind gilded iron gates, not a single building but a campus, with a steady stream of students flowing through.
Since the gates seem routinely open and since the security guard seldom looks up, there is nothing penal about the atmosphere at China’s oldest facility for the making of musicians.
It is so welcoming, in fact, that Toronto’s Soundstreams Ensemble was invited over the last month to take part in Shanghai New Music Week, an international festival of contemporary music held under its auspices for the past 11 years.
Just as Chinese musicians represent an increasing presence in western concert halls, the Middle Kingdom, as it used to be known, is admitting increasing numbers of their western counterparts to perform and teach.
An anniversary volume published a few years ago by Shanghai’s Grand Theatre pictures a large number of top-tier visiting western artists, from pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy to the seemingly inevitable tenor/baritone Placido Domingo, so when Soundstreams turned up on the conservatory’s stages no heads turned.
The Torontonians kept good company in Shanghai, appearing alongside international-class colleagues from Paris, Amsterdam, and Athens, performing before overwhelmingly young audiences, and to Soundstreams fell the particular responsibility of representing North American music, presenting works by three Canadians, R. Murray Schafer, Nicole Lizée and Juliet Palmer, and two Americans, John Cage and Steve Reich.