China campus aids Juilliard in search for next musical prodigy

Tianjin campus will be first in country to offer US-accredited master of music degree

October 26, 2019
Artist’s impression of Tianjin Juilliard
Source: The Juilliard School
Artist’s impression of Tianjin Juilliard

China has long had a love affair with Western classical music. It also has an obsession with finding the next big musical prodigy, examples of whom have included the now world-renowned cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Jian Wang.  

The pair are both alumni of New York’s acclaimed Juilliard School, so it is perhaps fitting that, when China’s passion for Western musical education takes on physical form next year, it will be in the shape of a Juilliard campus in Tianjin.

The Tianjin Juilliard School, due to fully open in autumn 2020, will be the first school in China to offer a US-accredited master of music degree. And, while there are other overseas music collaborations in China, only Tianjin Juilliard will be a full joint venture at the university level – similar administratively to New York University’s Shanghai outpost or Duke Kunshan University.

The 350,000ftfacility, funded by the Tianjin municipal government, has been under construction for about two years in Binhai, a newly developing “economic zone” on the outskirts of the city. Tianjin itself, a metropolis of 15 million people, is located about 70 miles, or a half-hour high-speed train ride, from Beijing. 

The idea for a Juilliard base in China was first publicised in 2012. For Alexander Brose, executive director of Tianjin Juilliard, the rationale for being in the country is clear. “The enthusiasm for classical music here is unparalleled,” he told Times Higher Education. “The future of classical music may be in China.” 

In 2015, Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan attended an announcement for the Tianjin campus, which at that time was scheduled to open in 2018. “It always takes a long time to build something of very high quality,” Mr Brose continued. “When I arrived in 2017, there were four people on the ground, and now there are about 70.” Among those are 19 international faculty members, who are already teaching Tianjin Juilliard’s pre-college-level classes for students aged eight to 18.  

Mr Brose has seen, from personal experience, that unique link between Asian society and Western music. Having grown up partly in South Korea and Hong Kong, he started learning Chinese in middle school and majored in East Asian studies at Cornell University. His previous post at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music involved working with Chinese partnerships. 

“In Tianjin, Beijing and Shanghai, I’ve attended challenging concerts, with two- or three-hour programmes, which are filled with children under the age of 10. After the concert, these kids are spilling out of the concert hall at 10.30pm, excited by what they heard. I haven’t seen that anywhere else. It’s a huge reason we’re here,” he said. 

Tianjin Juilliard’s international advisory council, announced in September, includes an array of celebrities such as Grammy-winning soprano Renee Fleming, Oscar-winning Chinese composer Tan Dun, and star pianist Lang Lang.

“The language of music is universal and can connect all kinds of people from diverse cultures, languages, and with different dreams,” Mr Tan said at Bard College in New York, where he was recently appointed dean at the Conservatory of Music. 

Mr Lang, who rose from ordinary beginnings in Liaoning province to becoming a classical music pop star, is particularly popular among younger Chinese. While most music students will not achieve Mr Lang’s fame, Mr Brose was happy for him to be a positive influence. “If a young boy or girl in Shandong Province sees Lang Lang – sees the great success he’s had and what he’s done for his community – and wants to emulate that, that’s terrific.”

The advisory council is headed by conductor Long Yu, who is known for using music to improve diplomatic relations; he led the first Chinese orchestra to perform at the Vatican in 2008 and at the BBC proms in 2014.

Tianjin Juilliard will start with three graduate programmes, chosen in part because they are not readily available in the Chinese system: orchestral studies, chamber music and collaborative piano. Applications have just opened for the 2020-21 academic year and auditions will be held globally to attract an international student body.  

“We are particularly eager to offer this opportunity to students from different countries in Asia who have gone abroad and now want to consider returning to Asia for a Juilliard education and degree,” said Melissa Cocco, associate dean for enrolment management. 

One big draw for Juilliard in New York is its location at Lincoln Center, a top performance venue in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Tianjin is not yet Manhattan, but there are hopes that the new music school will contribute to building a musical and cultural community, reaching from Beijing to nearby Hebei province. “Building a community takes time,” Mr Brose said. “We’re in this for the long haul. It’s a long-term commitment.” 

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: ‘Future of classical music may be here’

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