Shane O’Shea, Head of Music at Dulwich College Beijing, has been madly busy organizing the International Schools Choral Music Society’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem in the Forbidden City Concert Hall on February 26th. The event will involve 250 singers from 20 International Schools from ten countries, a 90-piece orchestra, and four of Chinas top vocal soloists. Mr. O’Shea explains what we can expect of this truly unique collaboration.
Please tell us briefly about your own background.
I am from Ireland and hold an honors masters degree from Trinity College. I am the youngest conductor to have performed in the National Concert Hall in Ireland and have worked with such people as Bonnie Tyler, Phil Coulter and James Galway. I released a CD titled Bow Down Thine Ear with the Trinity Chapel Choir while at university, the first undergraduate to do so. I was a founder of the Mornington Singers, the top Chamber Choir in Ireland. I have recorded with U2 and other Irish pop sensations, and worked with kids in Korea, Thailand and now China, and am in the process of completing my second masters, in Music Education at Northwestern University in Chicago, USA. I also helped found the Beijing Music Network, the Beijing Youth Orchestra and the International Schools Choral Music Society and am currently working on a very positive partnership with the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester that will benefit all students of music in China.
What inspired you to found the International Schools Choral Music Society (ISCMS)?
Everything I do is designed with the students in mind. After nearly eight years in the international music scene, I found that many of our students do not receive the same opportunities they would have if they stayed at home in their native countries. They are very much missing Western choral music, and lots more. Already we can see, and hear, the benefits. This is our third festival, and will be beamed live on the Internet on ISCMS TV. To offer them a chance for a career in music we must prepare them professionally, diligently and meticulously so they can compete with students studying in the West head on, when the time comes.
What can we expect of The Forbidden Requiem? Will anything about it really be forbidden?
The Forbidden Requiem will be a first for Beijing and China. We plan to put Mozart’s massive Requiem together in less than two days, with nearly 400 participants! That alone should be Forbidden, as this has never been attempted anywhere in the world. We have assembled a top class team of practitioners and 45 music teachers that are all part of the ISCMS.
The outcome of such a festivals, we hope, may be to set a bold example of how to excitingly flaunt the Forbidden, doing what isn’t done, as we continue to make inroads in changing the sometimes lazy and blasé attitudes to Western classical music and musicianship held by Chinese musicians themselves.
What is special for you about performing Mozart’s Requiem?
It is not just about performing the Mozart Requiem. It is far more than that. Having said that I cannot wait to get my teeth into the Dies Irae in the Requiem. Watch out – our performance will put the fire and brimstone back into the piece so often removed by somewhat timid performances.
International Schools from which countries will be participating?
We have assembled an amazing team from such countries as Japan, Thailand and Indonesia. They will be joined by representatives from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, Tianjin and Beijing. We have been very precise in what we expect from our member schools – a top-level music department with an innovative, progressive approach is a prerequisite.
What are some of the challenges involved in organizing such a collaboration?
Where do I begin? Everything from greeting 300 people at the airport, to arranging and structuring the workshops for 400 participants in Dulwich College to busing in 400 people and music instruments for an afternoon rehearsal on Friday the 26th of February prior to the concert. Not to forget, of course, food and allergies!
Aside from Mozart’s Requiem, what are some of your favorite works of music to perform?
I love large-scale works. I get great energy and fire in my belly from such masterpieces as Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony – a piece we performed recently with the Beijing Youth Orchestra. I also love the challenges of small, subtle pieces of music such as Brahms Lieder. We perform many pieces of this genre with our award-winning chamber choir at Dulwich College.
Do you have any recommendations for musical or entertainment resources around Beijing?
For me Beijing is like a musical flower waiting to blossom, or sing. The seeds have been sown and are ready to grow into something potentially quite amazing. If that happens, where it goes is purely up to the engagement of Beijing musicians – both International and Chinese – and how hard they want to work to make a difference, develop and grow. Everything is in place. Are we all ready to work together for the betterment of music, and not individuals or schools?