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Musicians from a Different Shore

Musicians from a Different Shore: Asians and Asian Americans in Classical Music

Mari Yoshihara
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Musicians from a Different Shore
    Book Description:

    Musicians of Asian descent enjoy unprecedented prominence in concert halls, conservatories, and classical music performance competitions. In the first book on the subject, Mari Yoshihara looks into the reasons for this phenomenon, starting with her own experience of learning to play piano in Japan at the age of three. Yoshihara shows how a confluence of culture, politics and commerce after the war made classical music a staple in middle-class households, established Yamaha as the world's largest producer of pianos and gave the Suzuki method of music training an international clientele. Soon, talented musicians from Japan, China and South Korea were flocking to the United States to study and establish careers, and Asian American families were enrolling toddlers in music classes.

    Against this historical backdrop, Yoshihara interviews Asian and Asian American musicians, such as Cho-Liang Lin, Margaret Leng Tan, Kent Nagano, who have taken various routes into classical music careers. They offer their views about the connections of race and culture and discuss whether the music is really as universal as many claim it to be. Their personal histories and Yoshihara's observations present a snapshot of today's dynamic and revived classical music scene.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-334-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Introduction: A Rising Scale in Relative Minor
    (pp. 1-10)

    Yo-Yo Ma. Seiji Ozawa. Zubin Mehta. Midori. Sarah Chang. Tan Dun. Lang Lang. These musicians are well known not only among classical music fans but also in America’s cultural landscape at large. In addition to the star status of these solo performers, conductors, and composers, Asian musicians have gained visibility as members of professional orchestras across the United States. Six of the nine new musicians who joined the New York Philharmonic in 2006 were Asian (all but one of those six were female string players); as a result, approximately one-fifth of the members of the New York Philharmonic are now...

  5. 1 Early Lessons in Globalization
    (pp. 11-48)

    Perhaps the best-known portrayal of Western classical music in Asia is the film,From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, which won the Oscar for best documentary in 1980. The film chronicles the visit by Isaac Stern, the world-renowned Jewish American violinist, to China in 1979, only a few years after the dismantling of the Cultural Revolution. During his month-long trip to China, Stern taught numerous master classes, visited conservatories, worked with orchestras, and gave public performances. The film begins with Stern’s own words as he arrives in China: “We [Stern and his accompanist David Golub] are both very...

  6. Voices
    (pp. 49-61)

    Since 1999, David Kim has been the concertmaster for the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the most prestigious orchestras in the United States and the world. Born in Carbondale, Illinois, of Korean parents, he began studying the violin at age three under what he describes below as “an Olympic-style” regimen. At age twelve he appeared with Itzhak Perlman as the subject of “Prodigy,” a WNEW-TV production in New York, and has been featured since on CBS, NBC, and PBS. He studied with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard and was a classmate of internationally acclaimed violinist, Cho-Liang Lin.

    I interviewed Kim in the...

  7. 2 The Roots and Routes of Asian Musicians
    (pp. 62-99)

    Many musicians think of themselves as musicians first before contemplating other categories of identity such as race or ethnicity. Indeed, when asked about what their racial and ethnic identity means to them, many informants replied that “musician” is their “race” or “people.” For instance, when I asked violist Junah Chung about his Korean identity, he reflected,

    [When I go back to Korea maybe once every two years] I really don’t feel very Korean…. I don’t think like a Korean, and I feel like a foreigner. And it’s funny because I look at all these Koreans there, and I still feel...

  8. 3 Playing Gender
    (pp. 100-130)

    Media accounts of the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition paid as much attention to the prominence of Asian musicians—especially women—and their glamorous presentation on stage as their playing. Numerous newspaper and magazine articles also offered detailed descriptions of the female musicians’ physical beauty, dress, and penchant for shopping. For instance, an article in theFort Worth Star-Telegramdescribed the Chinese pianists at the competition in this way:

    The upper echelon of this musical mecca [China] is largely populated by women—confident, passionate women who tackle a technically daunting Chopin etude with bravado and then take a graceful...

  9. 4 Class Notes
    (pp. 131-165)

    There are two, very different popular conceptions of the lives of classical musicians. On the one hand, they are seen as leading lives of glamour, spending their time on stage at such venues as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, wearing beautiful gowns or tuxedos, and performing for rapt audiences who pay a large sum to hear the music they admire. They socialize with wealthy, educated, and sophisticated patrons of the arts. They tour around the world, speak several languages, and are particularly comfortable in Europe. They live fulfilling, rewarding lives performing the music they feel passionate about.

    A contrasting image...

  10. Voices
    (pp. 166-186)

    Pianist Margaret Leng Tan was born in Singapore in 1953. She came to the United States at age sixteen when she won a scholarship to study at Juilliard, and she later became the first woman to earn a doctorate in music from that institution. After meeting avant-garde composer John Cage in 1981, she developed a strong interest in world music and contemporary music. She became Cage’s close friend and collaborator for the last eleven years of his life and was hailed as “the most convincing interpreter of John Cage’s keyboard music.” Her association with Cage also led to her fascination...

  11. 5 A Voice of One’s Own
    (pp. 187-224)

    Japanese violinist Hiroko Yajima remembered well her first tour in the United States in 1965 as a member of a student orchestra. The orchestra, comprised mostly of college and some high-school students at the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, had meticulously rehearsed Arnold Schoenberg’sTransfigured Nightfor the performance at the New York World’s Fair. For decades following this performance, Felix Galimir, a world-famous violinist from Vienna who later became one of her mentors, repeatedly told the story about how astonished he was by the performance of this group of “cute, young Japanese students in identical black and white...

  12. Conclusion: Musicians First
    (pp. 225-234)

    Much writing about classical music tends to be about composers and their work. The classical music section in most bookstores (if there is one) is usually filled with biographies of Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Mahler, and so forth. There are entire books about Beethoven’s Ninth or Mozart’sDon Giovanni. In contrast, far fewer books focus on performers of classical music. Except for celebratory biographies of some star performers, such as Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Bernstein, and Maria Callas, few books give a glimpse of what the lives of classical musicians—orchestral and chamber musicians, freelance performers, and teachers—are like.

    By shifting...

  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 235-238)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 239-254)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 255-262)
  16. Index
    (pp. 263-270)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-271)