Music is often said to be the universal language, connecting people across nationalities, backgrounds and ages. All one has to do is bask in the triumph of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 or experience the sublime beauty of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 to appreciate this maxim. As society grows increasingly globalized and people can more easily communicate and come together, the forces pulling people apart are ever apparent. However, music has proven time and time again that it has the power to transcend divisive factors and act as the ultimate diplomat.
Each year, the United States and China grow closer in many ways—from working together to solve global problems to education to the arts. For example, 230,000 Chinese students are currently studying in the United States and 24,000 American students are studying in China, with both numbers poised to increase for the foreseeable future. Many of these students are musicians hoping to benefit from the opportunities that attending a conservatory abroad provides. In sharing a love of music with their peers of another nation, these students can forge connections and establish close understanding with otherwise strangers. Music-education programs such as traveling national youth orchestras serve as enriching and effective methods of cultural exchange for all involved.
In 2014, Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA) was identified as a Cultural Pillar at the fifth US-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE). The meeting was cochaired by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice Premier Liu Yandong. One year later, in the summer of 2015, the NYO-USA embarked on a seven-city concert tour of China to much acclaim. The many cultural exchanges that took place during that tour, as well as the enthusiasm of the audiences and young musicians in China, served as the inspiration for the National Youth Orchestra of China.
Now, less than two years after NYO-USA’s China tour, NYO-China is ready for its inaugural season. Sir Clive Gillinson, the executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, notes that “the growth of music in China is astounding. It is going to be a central part of what defines music in the 21st-century world.” NYO-China recognizes this tremendous and growing wealth of musical talent in China and aims to cultivate it in a way that not only expands the students’ abilities and opportunities but also fosters cultural exchange.
From now on, each July NYO-China will bring together 100 of China’s most promising orchestral musicians from ages 14 to 21. They will work with teaching artists hailing from renowned ensembles and schools around the world, representing every section of the orchestra. In addition, the students will work with and perform alongside acclaimed pianist Yuja Wang, Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Olga Kern and Music Director of the Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot. For its inaugural year, NYO-China will debut in Carnegie Hall on July 22nd before embarking on a three-city concert tour of China. In years to come, the orchestra will share its music and passion at venues throughout the world. Leaders come and go, diplomatic tensions rise and fall, and political allegiances shift, but the power of music remains constant and indisputable. NYO-China will not only bring the orchestra’s members together with its mentors and performers, but will unite all those who see and hear it over a shared love of music.