Exclusive: China cuts an orchestra down by half

We hear from musicians in the Guiyang Symphony Orchestra that they have been called in one by one to be told that playing personnel will be cut to half size next season and wages will also be cut by fifty percent.

The orchestra, funded by a wealthy local couple, has vigorously recruited foreign musicians, as well as an Italian music director, Rico Saccani.

Now, the players are being told that there will be no foreign soloists in future and the title of music director will be abolished as there will not be enough left for him to do.

A new title will be devised for Saccani, who will conduct three last concerts in June. Several foreign players have bought houses and started families in Guiyang.

No word of the downsizing has appeared in Chinese media. The players are in shock and the sponsors have not been seen for a while. The musical ambitions of the province of Guiyang have been put on ice.

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  • While of Italian heritage, Mo. Saccani was born in Tuscon, Arizona, and seems to have trained primarily in the US, although his career has more recently unfolded in Europe.

  • Guiyang is a city, not a province, The province (of which it is the capital) is Guizhou.

  • 50% less musicians playing for 50% less salary – means committing only 25% of previous budget for the orchestra. This is a red flag to all international musicians thinking about making their musical career in China. Don’t even buy furniture if you take up a position there! You will be living on a delusion. There is no permanence in the orchestra business (as with most of Asia). You can be deemed unnecessary with 2 weeks notice. Just read the fine print and ‘buyer beware’. 😉

    • This is true for some groups and not others. Private orchestras in Asia are indeed dangerous. I saw many people lose their jobs in the GYSO, often with only 3 days notice, made worse by the fact that they have to leave their orchestra provided apartment also… I also saw people moved from tutti to principal and back multiple times sometimes within a week! But for the state funded orchestras it is entirely different. Their funding is secure and the contracts are for life. If anything they are actually more stable than their western counterparts since the Chinese government isn’t short on cash at all. I worked in both kinds of Chinese orchestras from 2006 to 2011.

      • Well put, Charles. This is probably the only privately-funded group in the country whereas most if not all others are provincially/municipally-funded by at least 70% on an annual basis. The classical music scene is still quite strong both on a professional and pedagogical level. Just ask any American musician from orchestras such as NY Phil, Cincinnati SO, etc. who have come to visit: audiences are passionately supportive/educated, repertoire is rich and funding is well-allotted. If anyone is interested in pursuing a job in any of the major groups here (China Phil in Beijing, Shanghai Symphony, or Guangzhou Symphony), it would certainly not be a move down to a C-level orchestra on a professional or economic level by any means.

  • In 2010 the musicians were told that Mr. Huang (the boss and sponsor of the orchestra) had deposited millions into a trust for the orchestra in Hong Kong. This was supposed to secure their salaries in perpetuity. Mr Huang and his wife have not been seen for 3 months since leaving china, officially for medical reasons.

  • As a matter of fact I called the orchestra management last Friday and am working on a story. It happened last Thursday.

  • This was one of the first private orchestras in china, also one of the best paying orchestras in china. Foreigner salaries were about 4000 euros per month after tax, and it included a free apartment and healthcare. The orchestra had also started buying fine instruments. I don’t think state funded ensembles in China are in any trouble, but the private groups can be seen as an ostentatious display of wealth, which is frowned upon by the current political administration. (Disclaimer, I was principal cellist with the GYSO 2009-2011).

  • Sacrificing your legs might be worth it to keep an orchestra job? Or did they want to cut the top halves?

  • I can see a few things behind this:
    1. It’s hard for the only private orchestra to be successful because all others are government supported orchestras. There is no such tradition.

    2. Many foreign trained Chinese musicians are going back to China and there is no shortages of musicians anymore.

    3. Although Chinese musicians mostly like to stay in big cities so that’s one of the reasons “foreign” musicians are hired to some secondary cities.
    Sometime those cities want to have foreign faces more than anything else.

    4. As of this orchestra falling, we can see many other orchestras have been created. I see nothing need to worry of the vibrate energy China has in orchestral activities! How many orchestras went down each year in the US? I see the orchestral activities are still pretty strong in the US as well.

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