This is the best news to come out of China since Mao died. It seems that while we in the U.S. are producing ever fewer classical music fans, the Chinese are rushing to fill the void.
The Chinese enthusiasm suggests the potential for a growing market for recorded music and live performances just as an aging fan base and declining record sales worry many professionals in Europe and the United States. Sales for a top-selling classical recording in the West number merely in the thousands instead of the tens of thousands 25 years ago.
More profoundly, classical music executives say that the art form is being increasingly marginalized in a sea of popular culture and new media. Fewer young American listeners find their way to classical music, largely because of the lack of the music education that was widespread in public schools two generations ago. As a result many orchestras and opera houses struggle to fill halls.
China, with an estimated 30 million piano students and 10 million violin students, is on an opposite trajectory. Comprehensive tests to enter the top conservatories now attract nearly 200,000 students a year, compared with a few thousand annually in the 1980s, according to the Chinese Musicians Association.
This is evident even here in the U.S. Go to any advanced music competition for young people and 40 to 50 percent of the students will be Chinese.
It’s a damn shame that we are failing so miserably to transmit our cultural heritage to our kids, but if the Chinese are eager for it, at least the music will continue to be performed and recorded. Somehow the Communist Chinese didn’t get the memo about cultural imperialism. They seem to think appreciating great music is part of becoming a great nation.