The usual smattering of amateur snaps, to accompany my piece on music in China. I'd first like to acknowledge Nick Frisch, a young American who accompanied me in Beijing and helped out in countless ways. I'm happy to recommend him to anyone who might ever want to work with him. Joanna Lee, Ken Smith, and Eli Marshall were also extremely helpful. Watch out for forthcoming recordings by Marshall's Beijing New Music Ensemble on the Naxos label.
Art and politics in close proximity: on the right, the National Center for the Performing Arts, and, on the left, the Great Hall of the People.
Another shot of the "Egg."
The interior of the Egg's concert hall.
A view from the high hill of Jingshan Park, with the Forbidden City to the left.
Over the courtyard of the Central Conservatory hangs a poster of China's musical heroes. In the top row you can see the composers Guo Wenjing, Chen Qigang, Tan Dun, and Chen Yi, all of whom attended the conservatory together in the late seventies and early eighties. Mr. Guo's music remains little known in the West, and recordings are scarce, but online you can find an excellent video of his percussion piece Parade by Oberlin Percussion, and also footage of his vocal-orchestral piece Journey, on poetry of Xi Chuan.
More modern-music heroes in a music shop and coffee house near the school. I don't think Morty would be happy to be positioned underneath Boulez.
Madame Mao's ban has been lifted.
A casual performance in Jingshan Park.
A bamboo flutist, dressed in a park attendant's uniform, playing alone in the woods. He stopped when I approached.
Special for The Standing Room.
Above and below, shots from the National Spirit Achievers Awards. I thought I sensed a slight awkwardness in the voices of the German car executives as they repeated the vaguely sinister slogan of the night, WILL POWER DREAM, but I might have been imagining things.
Chen Qigang, one of the honorees, took it all in apparent stride. In the shot above, he's the man in the overcoat on the right.
Here is Beijing's leading alternative-rock club, D-22. It was founded by Michael Pettis, who was long a regular on New York's downtown scene and once ran a club called Sin. Below, a performance by the ace guitarist and composer Zhang Shouwang, aka Jeff Zhang. Performing with him is Simon Frank, a teenager whose father works at the Canadian embassy. There's a YouTube video of one of their performances, under the moniker Speak Chinese or Die. Zhang's main band is the Carsick Cars, whose most popular song is "Zhongnanhai" — a title that refers to a local brand of cigarettes, although one can't help thinking also of the Party leadership compound. He also has a band called White.
Listen here to Yan Jun's recording of the "moment of silence" in honor of the Sichuan earthquake. Yan said to me, of life in Beijing: "You see the traffic lights change, but nobody cares, they drive through or cross the street anyway. There are many laws saying you can do this and you can do that, but people have their own rules. They have their way to share the power, find the relationship between safe and tough, keep the balance. Beijing people know this, they have this balance, but nobody writes it down.”
At the Mei Lanfang Grand Theater for a performance of Peking opera. The auditorium was full, but the audience was noticeably older than the crowds I saw at the Egg; the youth element was largely absent. Before the performance, I talked to three young performers (below), all of whom were in their twenties. In their hoodies and track pants, they looked like ordinary, Americanized Chinese youth, but when they spoke about their early immersion in Peking opera style, their years of training, the politics of the opera academies, and the struggle to establish the relevance of their work in modern China, they sounded very much like fresh Juilliard graduates who've spent too little time outside the practice room. The actor in the middle is Liu Kuikui.
A magnificent array of instruments for a performance at the Divine Music Administration, on the grounds of the Temple of Heaven:
For most of the time, I was the only visitor in the place:
To close, obligatory shots of the Great Wall, at Simatai. As Nixon immortally said, it is indeed a great wall.
On our way back to Beijing, we stopped in a small village. Nick wanted me to see what life was like for Chinese people outside the wealthy urban centers.
There was a sign on a wall that said: "Water will be available today 6:30AM to 7:30AM."