Watching a live performance of a symphony or a musical on a grand stage is an experience like no other – just once is enough to instill in any person a true appreciation for music. Part of the joy of it is seeing architecture designed for the sake of acoustics. To understand the composition of a sound wave and how it reacts to its surrounding space is no easy task, and it’s even more difficult to design a grand auditorium in which a pin dropping on the stage will be heard in even the farthest reaches of the room.
It is, perhaps, a testament to how highly humanity values music that in almost every major city in every corner of the world, there exists an elaborate concert hall to which a massive amount of time and energy was devoted.
Forbidden City Concert Hall
The Forbidden City Concert Hall is situated in the tranquil and serene Zhongshan Park, just west of the Forbidden City. First built in 1942 and renovated in 1999, this concert hall has since been a mainstay for classical music performances by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and China Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a popular venue for large music events such as Nine Gates Jazz Festival and the Beijing International Music Festival.
The main performance hall has two floors and is large enough to accommodate an audience of up to 1,400. Five luxurious private rooms offer first-class services for VIP guests. The top-notch design offers superb acoustics and satisfactory views from all angles. The stage also boasts one of China’s only four pipe organs – an Austin organ installed in 2000.
The Forbidden City Concert Hall holds over 300 concerts every year, including Western classical music, traditional Chinese music, world and ethnic music, jazz, semi-staged opera and dance. Seasonal performances include New Year concerts, National Day concerts and annual jazz and pop festivals, in addition to the year-round orchestra and chorus performances. The complex also includes a cinema designed for 150 people and a conference room designed for 200, where numerous movies and art events are held.
In short, this is a place to appreciate music conducted by great maestros from around the world in an elegant and classical atmosphere.
Restrictions: Food and drinks (including empty bottles) are not allowed inside the performance hall. Mobile phones must be switched off or set to the silent mode. Flash photography is not allowed.
National Center for the Performing Arts
The long-anticipated National Center for the Performing Arts (affectionately nicknamed “The Egg”) was completed and opened to the public in September 2007. Located in the center of Beijing, this modern, grand and uniquely designed art center houses three major halls. The opera house in the center (2,079 seats) is flanked by a music concert hall (1,859 seats) in the east wing and a drama theater (957 seats) in the west wing. Plays, dance performances, Peking Opera and concerts of classical, traditional and popular music are showcased here with the finest facilities and equipment.
Besides these halls and one small experimental theater, the National Center for the Performing Arts also provides attendees with a beautifully designed set of spaces. An 80-meter-long underground corridor of water and glass creates a dream-like ambiance for guests to walk through; the open public lounge houses cafeterias and gift shops as well as a multifunctional activity area including a press conference hall, a library and a photo gallery. Before entering the concert hall to enjoy a spectacular performance, arts lovers can walk around the building and enjoy the magnificent display of architecture.
The Beijing International Children’s Drama Festival will be held from May 15 to June 15, during which six kids plays will be performed in the drama theater. Expect performances by young performers from Beijing, Jinan and Sichuan, including the Chinese titles Red Kid, You Look Yummy, Baby and Straw House, along with musicals and ballets from international performances. The center’s opera house will host Madame Butterfly on May 8-10, performed in conjunction with the Chinese Conservatory of Music, and the ballet Paquita, by Opera National de Paris, on May 16-18.
Restrictions: Food, water (including empty bottles), cameras and mobile phones are not allowed inside the hall.
Chang’an Grand Theater
To get a firsthand experience of the artistic history and tradition of Peking Opera (see Lao Nainai Explains on p44), there is no finer place than Chang’an Grand Theater. First built in 1937, Chang’an Grand Theater has hosted many great performances by generations of Peking Opera masters. In September 1996, the theater was relocated from the Xidan area to east of Chang’an Street and renovated into a stylish yet traditional Chinese opera house with modern technical facilities.
The performance hall on the second floor is furnished with traditional Chinese furniture and seating for 800. Classical and modern repertoires are performed on a multifunctional stage equipped with advanced sound and lighting devices. Apart from Peking Opera, Chang’an Grand Theater also showcases regional operas such as kunqu, yueju, yuju and Sichuan Opera, in addition to modern dramas, comedies and symphonic poetry readings.
The traditional way to enjoy a Peking Opera performance is to sit around a table with friends or family, drinking tea and munching on tasty pastries. In the VIP area of the Chang’an Grand Theater, 26 sets of traditional wooden tables and chairs are provided for guests desiring an authentic night at the Peking Opera. Tea is served in delicate teapots and cups, accompanied by Chinese delicacies. After the performance, head to the guest lounge on the first floor where an art gallery displays Chinese watercolor paintings, as well as a gift shop for Chinese traditional arts and crafts.
Peking University Hall
In addition to being China’s top science and technological institution, Peking University also houses the largest and most modern concert hall in Beijing’s Haidian District. Built for the university’s 100th anniversary, the hall attracts local and international art, cultural exchanges and prominent research groups. For many Chinese parents, Peking University is an ideal place to take their children to soak up the academic atmosphere. They can meet current students and fraternize in the picturesque collegiate setting as well as visit the library and browse the museums and galleries – all of which are open to the public.
The concert hall has three floors totaling 5,600 square meters, including a multifunctional hall, exhibition area and the Four Seasons yard, water bar and rehearsal rooms. Built to correspond with the style of the surrounding architecture, the solemn and elegant structure resembles a tower with exterior walls made of granite.
As an important artistic, academic and cultural exchange center, the Peking University Hall presents an assortment of shows that include traditional music concerts, musical productions, dances and operas, as well as movies. Many acclaimed international troupes have chosen Peking University as the venue to hold their premieres. Furthermore, since performances here target the student crowd, prices are quite reasonable compared to other places in Beijing.
Beijing Concert Hall
The first specialized concert hall in China, the Beijing Concert Hall was constructed in 1960 on the southern end of Xichang’an Jie above the site of the former Central Film Theatre. For half a century, it played host to international and local musicians, such as violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, and pianist Yin Chengzong. After being renovated in 2003, the stage can now accommodate large choirs and orchestras and audiences of over 1,000. This concert hall is renowned for its cutting-edge architectural acoustics, high-quality reverberation and symmetrical sound field arrangement, all of which contribute to an unmatched sound quality.
The building is made with gray glass and illuminated by indoor lights in the evenings, resembling something like a crystal music box. Every summer, the Beijing Concert Hall presents a special children’s musical program, Opening the Door of Music, which aims to introduce kids to the world of classical music and stimulate intellects during the lazy days of summer. The program includes ethnic concerts, opera singing, piano and violin concertos, as well as classes on different styles of music. It also attempts to combine contemporary music with television and film. To capture the attention of the youngest audience members, animated films are screened alongside the music and orchestra so that children can absorb the music by linking it to stories.