27 July, 2008

Shenzhen Symphony orchestra: My Odyssey

Shenzhen Symphony orchestra: My Odyssey

My journey to the SSO concerts, with its many hiccups, some exasperating and others just hilarious, is an odyssey. First, I shall try to help you navigate through the quagmire that is SSO, for this is an orchestra that you should pay attention to!

The SSO is I think run by the government, not itself, and there lies the big divide. The administrators, including the webpage designers, just don’t know what they are doing. On the net you can find many blogs and posts by ex-musicians, expatriates who got exasperated by the bureaucracy. Looking at the musician list you will find only a handful of expatriates now. In particular, I miss the fabulous Russian cellist Artem

Konstantinov, who was principal cellist. Visit the website as a rough guide but DON’T believe everything you read! View in particular the concert schedule.

The 2008-2010 seasons have fortunately been sponsored by 交通銀行, which, together with the appointment of German conductor Christian Ehwald as Artistic Director, shall hopefully inject some stability into the organization. I first noticed this not from the website, but from a flyer issued by the bank which I picked up at 大劇院.

Please note 深圳大劇院音樂廳 and深圳音樂廳 are DIFFERENT venues!!!

(A) 深圳大劇院音樂廳

This is obviously part of the older 深圳大劇院, which, like some of our venues, has an opera house as well as a concert hall. It is in Lo Wu district, easily reached by taking the MTR to 大劇 stop. It is close to the Lo Wu Book City. The concert I am about to report was played here. The official website.

(B) 深圳音樂廳

(Shenzhen Concert Hall) is a much newer and outwardly chic venue, located in Futian district, in a complex that also contains the architecturally matched SZ Central Library and nearby Central Book City. It can be reached by taking the MTR to 少年宮 stop. The location is closer to Huanggang and Lok Ma Chau checkpoints than to Lo Wu. From the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint (can be reached on the HK side by MTR as well as KMB B1) you can get into the SZ MTR directly right after customs and not get on to the street until you have reached destination! The venue also hosts many visiting orchestras. Coming up are the Asian Youth Orchestra (same programs as HK), the Helsinki (with the excellent Okko Kamu!), to mention only two. Visit the website.

Now, to my odyssey.

Back a few months ago, before I got organized on the web, I only occasionally physically visited (when I visited the Lo Wu Book City) the 大劇院 for concert information and to pick up the good Shenzhen ARTMAP (published by the HK organization). This is really not that efficient nor reliable. I noticed a concert flyer and the Russian female cellist soloist caught my attention. But when I inquired they said “sorry, cancelled” even though the flyers were still out there. You can also see from a previous link that cancellation is rather common here! Here I issue

Advisory 1: For the SSO, don’t get tickets early to avoid cancellations.

The 交通銀行 sponsorship is a more recent thing, and it was only recently that I picked up the flyer. The flyer is almost exactly like this webpage

At that time, I became interested in the 3 concerts of Ehwald, 11/7, 18/7 and 25/7. On the flyer, for ALL 3 concerts, the venue is listed as 深圳音樂廳. I inquired at the box office of 大劇院 on 2 separate occasions and was told either “No information” (first time, earlier on) or “No tickets for sale, possibly internal event!” (second time, only 2-3 weeks ago!). When I came back to HK, I was stunned to see on the website that the venue is listed as深圳大劇院音樂廳 instead!!! Finally I visited深圳音樂廳 2 weeks ago and got the ticket for 18/7, indeed held at 深圳大劇院音樂廳.

Then, for the concert of 25/7, which I was interested in: The venue column on the SSO webpage was perilously left blank. But the concert hall webpage was more confident:

Since I trust the concert hall webpage more than ANYTHING from the administration of the SSO, I took it that the concert would be held at 深圳音樂廳. Here I issue

Advisory 2: As with many things in SZ, things change quickly. So, for SSO concerts, it is a MUST to (i) check out all the web info you can get and (ii) crosscheck info on all sites, keeping in mind that (iii) SSO webpage is the least reliable.

Finally I attended the concert of 18/7at 深圳大劇院. I couldn’t believe it, it was finally happening!!! However…not before some more hiccups. On that night, I noticed people outside the venue trying to buy as well as sell tickets, and it was sold out! More likely, tickets were given out by the bank to their VIP customers (said so on the flyer; there’s a hotline for such customers). I got there early, and the ticket window was mobbed (“Sound of Music” was playing at the theater). I wanted to buy the ticket for 25/7. The young lady said “Sure, available” and then ran into problems at the computer. Many minutes passed before another lady said “Tickets not sold here”. I was getting mad but walked away to cool off. Then I returned and asked another lady who told me they stopped selling tickets for the event because the ticket itself could not be printed properly on their machine. Apparently, unlike HK, tickets themselves are not unified. Organizations/venues supply their own tickets to be printed on the machine. That’s my understanding, or do I actually understand??? Here I issue:

Advisory 3: For certain popular SSO events (use your judgement), don’t buy tickets last minute either. Might be sold out! I know I know…

Advisory 4: It’s OK to buy tickets at the深圳音樂廳, but try to avoid the box office of the 深圳大劇院, for obvious reasons.

There are internet options as well as SZ local delivery hotline, but I haven’t tried them.