All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

Networking the Russian Diaspora: Russian Musicians and Musical Activities in Interwar Shanghai

Posted: September 21st, 2021 | No Comments »

Networking the Russian Diaspora by Ho-Lan Helan Yang, Simo Mikkonen and Jonathan Winzenberg hopefully doesn’t just focus on classical and opera, but also on the cabarets and nightclubs. My copy is ordered anyway…

Networking the Russian Diaspora is a fascinating and timely study of interwar Shanghai. Aside from the vacated Orthodox Church in the former French Concession where most Russian émigrés resided, Shanghai today displays few signs of the bustling settlement of those years. Russian musicians established the first opera company in China, as well as choirs, bands, and ensembles, to play for their own and other communities. Russian musicians were the core of Shanghai’s lauded Municipal Orchestra and taught at China’s first conservatory. Two Russian émigré composers in particular—Alexander Tcherepnin and Aaron Avshalomov—experimented with incorporating Chinese elements into their compositions as harbingers of intercultural music that has become a well-recognized trend in composition since the late twentieth century. The Russian musical scene in Shanghai was the embodiment of musical cosmopolitanism, anticipating the hybrid nature of twenty-first-century music arising from cultural contacts through migration, globalization, and technological advancement.

As a pioneering study of the Russian community, Networking the Russian Diaspora examines its musical activities and influence in Shanghai. While the focus of the book is on music, it also gives insight into the social dynamics between Russians and other Europeans on the one hand, and with the Chinese on the other. The volume, coauthored by Chinese music specialists, makes a significant contribution to studies of diaspora, cultural identity, and migration by casting light on a little-studied area of Sino-Russian cultural relations and Russian influence in modern China. The discoveries stretch the boundaries of music studies by addressing the relational aspects of Western music: how it has articulated national and cultural identities but also served to connect people of different origins and cultural backgrounds.

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