When the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performs Belshazzar’s Feast and then Bluebeard’s Castle: with Bach and Brahms at the Sydney Opera House in November, three students from the Shanghai Orchestra Academy (SOA) will be up there on the Concert Hall stage playing with them.

The performances are part of a two-week residency that the students are undertaking with the SSO, as part of the Orchestra’s commitment to helping develop the next generation of Chinese orchestral musicians.

Minxian Sun. Photograph © Daniela Testa

The two-week residency, lasting from November 19 to December 3, will give the three SOA students the opportunity to rehearse and perform alongside SSO musicians in their two season finale programmes. Participants were selected by audition in September, while the SSO was on tour in China, after two days of workshops and masterclasses.

“The calibre of talent among the students who auditioned was exceptionally high this year, which made choosing our guests a very difficult decision,” said Andrew Haveron, SSO’s Concertmaster, who presided over the audition process with SSO Principal Cellist Umberto Clerici. “Our collaboration with SOA has been very successful in the past, with both the students and SSO musicians having a fabulous time working together in Sydney. The opportunity for any student to work in a professional orchestra is invaluable; it’s the type of experience that lasts for the rest of your professional life.”

Playing with SSO musicians under Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson, the experience is set to be one of intense learning. Double bassist Kaixuan Zhang (23) violinist Minxian Sun (25) and violist Kuan Liu (25) will arrive in Sydney on Sunday. The following Friday they will join the SSO in the first performance of its Belshazzar’s Feast concert. By the next Wednesday they will take the stage with a whole new set of repertoire, in the SSO’s season finale Bluebeard’s Castle: with Bach and Brahms.

For Shanghai Orchestra Academy Executive Director Doug He, the residency helps students to form cultural connections as well as musical ones. “I am so pleased to see both the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the SSO sharing the same vision of cultivating the younger generation and providing opportunities through cultural exchange,” he says. “It has been a great pleasure to work with the SSO to offer young musicians the experience of playing side-by-side with musicians at the top international level. During the past three years, this opportunity has allowed young Chinese professionals to expand their performance horizons, and understand a different culture.”

The Shanghai Orchestra Academy was established in 2014 as a joint partnership between the New York Philharmonic, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The goal was to fill a perceived need for orchestra-specific training in China, and to deepen the NYP’s 30-year relationship with its Chinese audience.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra first toured to mainland China in 2009, and since then has become one of Australia’s leading cultural ambassadors in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2015, the Academy and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalise their joint commitment to training the new generation of orchestral musicians in China. The SSO’s first student residency took place that year, building straight away on the strength of that shared vision: transforming emerging musicians into eminent orchestral performers.

Emma Dunch, who next year will take on the role of SSO’s CEO, points out the positive future implications of making connections like these. “The partnership between our organisations has been so successful because it continues to create reciprocal opportunities for SSO and SOA musicians to learn from one another in Sydney and China,” she says. “We’re very excited to welcome these three incredibly talented musicians to be part of our orchestra for two weeks!”

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra performs Belshazzar’s Feast at the Sydney Opera House November 24 – 25 and Bluebeard’s Castle November 29 – December 2.