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University to host ‘I Sing Beijing’ concert
February 15, 2013Tweet
A campus audience will be the second in the United States to enjoy a historic East-meets-West opera collaboration.
“I Sing Beijing” is a program dedicated to advancing vocal arts and promoting relationships between artists in China and the West. “I Sing Beijing,” which began in 2011, trains Western singers to perform Chinese opera in Mandarin. The group, featuring 20 members, will perform a free gala concert at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, in the Anderson Center’s Osterhout Concert Theater. The performance is one of six stops on the “I Sing Beijing” national tour and comes two days after the program makes its U.S. debut at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
“The audience can join in with our energy and be part of something unique, special and brand new,” said baritone Brian Wahlstrom, a San Diego native who has been a member of “I Sing Beijing” for the past two years. “We want them to go home and feel like they’ve witnessed something for the first time – and that they were a part of it.”
The Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University is sponsoring the concert. Valerie Chou, assistant director of Binghamton’s institute, said the University’s proximity to New York City and the funding provided to “I Sing Beijing” by Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing helped make the concert possible.
“Headquarters called us last semester and said ‘I Sing Beijing is going to perform at the Lincoln Center. Would you consider hosting them and have them perform?’ I said: ‘Sure!’”
The free concert is an extension of the institute’s mission, Chou said.
“We are very proud that ‘I Sing Beijing’ is able to come here,” Chou said. “One of the Confucius Institute’s goals is to promote Chinese culture and language. Most institutes do this through the teaching of the Chinese language. But we like to offer people different methods. China is not just about language or calligraphy or paintings. We have a thriving performing-arts tradition.
“This also shows students that learning the language is not difficult,” Chou said. “Look at these performers: They learned how to sing (in Mandarin) within a few weeks.”
“I Sing Beijing” performers begin studying Mandarin when they arrive in China. Wahlstrom, who like most of the members had no Mandarin experience before joining the program, said performers take six weeks of intensive language training for three hours a day. They then learn how to sing in Mandarin.
“As an opera singer, you learn to perform in multiple languages,” said Wahlstrom, who has toured in 19 different countries over his career. “That side of it is the same: learning vowels, consonants and translations. What makes Mandarin unique is that it hasn’t been done before. The tradition of singing Italian is nothing new for an American. There’s a way to go about it and there are books written about it. There are no books about how to learn Mandarin diction. We had to invent the process – and that was challenging.”
Wahlstrom said he has enjoyed his time working in China, calling it “an amazing country.”
“The No. 1 thing I love about it is the people,” he said. “They are really kind, energetic and engaging. They are very curious, very proud – and proud to show (the country) to us.”
Wahlstrom credited the success of the program and its performers to Artistic Director Hao Jiang Tian, who founded “I Sing Beijing” as a new means of exchange and education. The Beijing native is a world-renowned basso cantante who has sung as a principal soloist at the Metropolitan Opera for the past 19 years and was featured in the PBS special “From Mao to the Met.”
“Inviting singers to his own country is what will be his legacy,” Wahlstrom said. “Bringing what we have learned in Beijing back to America is a great honor for us.”
The Binghamton University concert will feature an “international flavor” of performers, Wahlstrom said, including singers from the United States, Mexico, Italy, Canada and China.
“We are going to perform a well-rounded program,” he said. “It’s about two-thirds Mandarin music and one-third Western repertoire. So it will include Puccini and Rossini, but also operatic music in the Chinese tradition.”
Wahlstrom, whose operatic and musical theater roles include the title roles of “Don Giovanni” and “Gianni Schicchi,” will open the “I Sing Beijing” show. He first serves as a narrator reciting a poem before launching into “Ode to the Yellow River” from “Yellow River Cantata.”
“It’s a smack-you-in-the-face-with-everything-we’ve-got opening,” he said. “It’s energetic and cool.”
The “I Sing Beijing” company will do more at Binghamton University than perform onstage, though. On Monday afternoon, Wahlstrom and other singers will visit vocal students at the University. They plan to talk with the students about their careers and listen to them sing.
“I remember when I was going to undergraduate and graduate school, some of the best parts were having a guest come to class and talk about their experiences in the professional world,” said Wahlstrom, who received his master of music degree in vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music. “On top of that, we can offer something unique: ‘Look at what we’re doing. It’s a new idea. You can learn Mandarin and there’s an opportunity to sing it.’ If you can carve out your own niche and show people that you’ve been doing it successfully, that’s exciting. So we’re happy to talk about our experiences and hear what’s going on musically at Binghamton University.”
Exposure to “I Sing Beijing” can only be beneficial to Binghamton vocal students, Chou said.
“Who knows? Maybe one day Binghamton University students will be in the group,” she said. “That would be great.”