An article in the most recent Economist was subtitled “China’s newest export hit is classical music” with a lede about the China Philharmonic Orchestra on tour in New York.

 

Once, classical music generally travelled from the West to the rest. Now China is reversing the exchange, not merely performing Western classical music in China, but exporting it.

 

But China has been “exporting” individual performers of demonstrable world-class stature for quite some time: pianists Wang Yujia and Li Yundi and opera singers soprano He Hui and tenor Shi Yijie are just a few Chinese artists in demand worldwide. Hong Kong had the privilege to hear one of the others this weekend, classical guitarist Yang Xuefei, playing Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

No opera composer turned to William Shakespeare more often than Giuseppe Verdi, who composed three works, Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff, based on the Bard’s plays. But if it hadn’t been for the persistence of his publisher Ricordi and would-be librettist Arrigo Boito, Verdi might well have stopped at one. He had to be coaxed out of a post-Aida retirement to write Otello, which finally premiered in 1887, sixteen years later.

But Otello was worth waiting for. A masterpiece, a thorough integration of music, words and drama that, astoundingly, manages to illuminate the original work—itself an unequalled masterpiece—on which it is based.