AK: You left your town in North-East China when you were just 9 years old having won a place at a special music school attached to a conservatoire. How many such schools are there in China?

JZ: Yes, My school was a music middle school affiliated to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. There are about 100 children in the primary school and 600 in middle school. There are 11 such music schools in China, two of which have recently opened.

AK: In the West we hear of the millions of children learning piano in China. Do the majority study piano for many years?

Jingzhuo Zhang
Jingzhuo Zhang
JZ: Some parents let their children study piano because they want them to become a professional pianist like Lang lang. He is really famous in the world. They want their children to be “superstars”. For this reason they will learn for a long time, maybe their whole life but for many other parents they just want their children to learn this as a skill for a short time. When children go to middle school the academic workload is really heavy so they tend to drop the music lessons.

AK: Growing up in China, how much time was given to teaching pupils at ordinary schools about classical music and an appreciation of it?

JZ: When I was at primary school (aged about 6) there was one lesson of singing a week, but  there isn’t any music appreciation offered to children who go to normal school, just academic work. And the children aren’t taken to concerts by their schools as a part of their education.

AK: Is this something parents will do instead if they view this as important?

JZ: There are a lot of tiger mothers or fathers in China. Some of them take their children to concerts, some don’t. From the time I was born, my father – himself a clarinettist – wanted me to become a professional musician so he tried to take me to every useful concert. He wanted me to learn something from every concert I attended and also for me to feel the atmosphere.

And of course he wanted to me to be successful and to become a soloist. I think in China most families are the same, they want their children to be successful.

AK: Tell me what you think of competitions?

JZ: There are a number of competitions in China. I think winning a competition is the usual way to develop your career and makes it easier to be successful. In local or national competitions everywhere the judges are looking for how we interpret the music, how much ability we have and they want to pick out the superstar of the future. In international competitions, the judges need to see that we play every note perfectly and want a winner who has already reached the standard of a professional concert performer.

AK: As you’re now studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, can you talk about teaching methods in China and compare the methods to those you’re now experiencing in the UK? Are there differences?

JZ: Most Chinese teachers teach every detail, note by note and bow by bow. They even teach you what they think. Western teachers, on the other hand, always give us lots of ideas but they get us to think and select what we want to do.

AK: Was there a difference in attitude between your fellow pupils in China and those in the UK? Was there any pressure to attend your peers' concerts?

JZ: Not really, I go to some of my friends’ concerts.  I think most people are like that.

AK: Do you attend lots of concerts? What  is your chief reason for attending?

JZ: For me, I want to learn something from the concerts I attend. For me it is a part of my career development.

On audiences and classical music in China

AK: Is classical music popular in China?

JZ: Not really. Maybe many people think it is a little bit boring. They prefer to go to pop song concert to see a superstar or go to the cinema.

AK: What can you tell me about audiences in China? Are they of a similar demographic to the UK with the majority of patrons aged 50 and above? Who goes to concerts? Is it an elite pastime or do people of all classes go?

JZ: Some people attend concerts to experience a taste of life, others will be music students or professional musicians, or the performers’ friends and family. In China, only a few older people go to concerts whereas in the UK, there are more older people who love music.

AK: How many professional orchestras do you estimate there are in China? How long have the orchestras been operating?

JZ: Almost every big city has its own orchestra. Some orchestras are new. The oldest orchestra is the Harbin Symphony Orchestra and that was set up over 100 years ago.

AK: How well do orchestral concerts sell in China?

JZ: The concerts most likely to sell out in China are film concerts or those where a world famous conductor or orchestra or artist is performing. Usually I think orchestral concerts are 60–70% sold.

AK: Do you think classical music is embedded in China or will it take a lot longer for this to happen? How long do you think?

JZ: I think it is getting there. But you know, if you want to change a kind of culture, it will need at least two generations.

 

Jingzhuo Zhang was born in North-East China in 1993. Her father, who plays clarinet, encouraged her to start learning piano when she was four, but at the age of eight she transferred to cello. At the age of nine, accompanied by her mother, she moved to Shanghai to study with Meijuan Liu and Xinhua Ma at the Middle School Affiliated to Shanghai Conservatory of Music. In 2015 she received the ‘Future Star’ award at Jingmao Concert  Hall in Shanghai.  In 2011, she  won National Chamber Music Competition. In 2012, she won a full scholarship to study for her BMus degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where her teacher is Jo Cole, Head of Strings.  In 2013, she was awarded Excellence Prize in the Schoenfeld International String competition. She was also winner of the Douglas Cameron Prize, Wilfrid Parry Prize, North London Festival String Competition, Florence Hooton Concerto Prize, Harold Craxton Prize and May Mukle Prize. She has participated in masterclasses with Colin Carr, Sung-Won Yang, Mario Brunello and Robert Cohen.

Jingzhuo is also an active orchestra player. During her first year at the Academy she played as Principal Cellist in the Academy String Orchestra. She has also played Principal Cello with Academy Symphony Orchestra working with major international conductors including Edward Gardner and Semyon Bychkov. She has played as the youngest principal cellist in the Asian Youth Orchestra in 2011 and Associate Principal Cello in the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra 2014 under Christoph Eschenbach. Jingzhuo has also been a member of the elite Academy Soloists, directed by Clio Gould.