Composing and conducting in Beijing

On completing his PhD at Southampton last year, composer George Holloway was awarded a grant for postdoctoral work in China.  One year in, he tells us how it has been going:

Autumn, the best time of year in Beijing, is rapidly giving way to the icy chill of Winter.  I have my duck feather coat ready!

Working with conductor Zhang Guoyong and Qingdao Symphony Orchestra.

I’m in Beijing studying conducting at the Central Conservatory of Music.  I’m now one month into the second and last year of a scholarship I received from the Chinese Scholarship Council.  Coming to China was quite a culture shock, and frankly not how it so often is portrayed in the media: if you want to know what I mean, you’ll just have to come here and experience it for yourselves!  Last year I felt somewhat in a wilderness, as my time was devoted mainly to learning the language; this year I’m thriving more, as I’ve started the conducting classes, as well as composing pieces for performers here and preparing a lecture course on English contemporary music which I’ll give in the second semester.

I’ve recently composed two miniatures for accordion and violin; here I am experiencing for myself the feel of holding and trying to play the accordion.

The most successful aspect of 2013 (apart from the pleasant surprise of passing my Chinese exams) was coming third in the Beijing Contemporary Orchestral Composition Grand Prix.  My January and February (the Spring Festival holiday in China) were devoted to composing Earthly Branches, a 14-minute piece for large orchestra, which was selected as one of the six best entries in the competition and performed by Qingdao Symphony Orchestra in the Beijing Concert Hall in May 2013. The judges included Fred Lerdahl and Kaija Saariaho.

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