Learning in Harmony at YMCG

Article by Joey Lau (BMus Year 3, Violin)


Recently, I took part in the 3rd Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG) Festival in Guangzhou alongside my BMus schoolmates Cao Lan (Year 1, Viola), Lan Ying-Chieh (Year 4, Bassoon), Lin Guan-Ru (Year 2, Violin), and Liu Rui (Year 4, Bassoon). Held from 11-19 January, YMCG brought together 72 young musicians from 13 countries and over 24 cities around the globe. The festival was led by Yu Long (Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra Music Director) as Chairman of the Artistic Committee, Yo-Yo Ma as Artistic Director, and Michael Stern as Music Director, along with a team of distinguished faculty.

Presented by the Guangdong Province Department of Culture and Tourism and jointly organised by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and Xinghai Concert Hall, YMCG was conceived as a nine-day exploration where musicians not only gain technical proficiency, but learn how to be creative and flexible in an ensemble setting. We performed works from Western as well as Eastern traditions, ranging from classical masterpieces to musical improvisations.

Youth Music Culture Guangdong - Festival Tent

Over the nine days, we took part in orchestra and chamber rehearsals and coachings, as well as range of workshops and masterclasses discussing topics including “An Introduction to Musical Problem-Solving” and “Content, Communication and Reception”. A special experience was playing in Silk Road bands, in line with the initiative by Yo-Yo Ma, where we would learn two short folk tunes by ear, create our own arrangement of the tune in groups of four or five, and perform it at the end of the festival. On some evenings, we also had chamber salons – a great way to party over music readings and good food with friends and faculty!

Youth Music Culture Guangdong in session

Assoc Prof Zhang Jin Min, Head of Woodwinds who observed and advised the festival by invitation, commented, “YMCG is unique in gathering a highly international group of participants in a spirit of musical collaboration, against the backdrop of a dynamic Guangzhou.”

The climax of the festival was the closing concert, titled “A Musical Marathon: From Brahms and Sibelius to the Unexpected”. It was truly a marathon, beginning at 2.00pm with all of our chamber group and Silk Road ensemble performances. Following a short dinner break, we then performed Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Yo-Yo Ma and Johnny Gandelsman, as well as Sibelius’ 5th Symphony, under the baton of Michael Stern.

Assoc Prof Brett Stemple, Assistant Dean (Performance & Artistic Research) and Head of Brass & Percussion, noted after attending the closing concert, “Youth Music Culture Guangdong utilises an engaging and unique pedagogical vehicle – an orchestral festival with chamber music and improvisational Silk Road bands as its driving force. I was certainly inspired by the electric synergy of the closing day’s performances!”

Through these experiences, we got to work on skills that are not usually as emphasised in music festivals, such as learning music by ear, exchanging ideas and creating our own music. I was initially worried about whether I would be able to fit in with the YMCG Symphony Orchestra since I hardly knew anyone, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming that it was easy for us to become a big family. Working in different ensembles, we truly got to learn from fellow participants – I especially loved working with my chamber group, for we were able to express ourselves together without difficulty and learn from each other musically. In addition, we received so much inspiration from the festival faculty’s understanding, knowledge and passion. A particular reminder from Yo-Yo Ma that I will hold dear: 

“Why perform if you do not make it memorable for yourself and the audience? Make the listener the most important person in the room.”

The festival was truly a special experience, and a highlight in this academic year for me!

Title photo credit: Joey Lau

All other photos from Youth Music Culture Guangdong.