Persistence and Credit
——Jiang’s experience in holding concerts
By Chongpu Zhang
For the first battle in the field of music concerts after withdrawing from food industry, Hong Jiang lost on the economic level, but won on the spiritual one. Because of the snow and Chinese New Year season, the February 16 West Meets East Concert held by Jiang in Jordan Hall did not receive enough audience to cover the fees, but brought a Chinese musical feast for people in Boston.
“Time and weather are two major factors to hold a concert,” says Hong Jiang, a Chinese immigrant who moved to Boston in 1990s. Since all the income of the concert depends on the tickets, to make sure the success of the concerts she always takes the potential competing activities and weather into consideration. April or October is Jiang’s first choice during which the weather is comfortable and Chinese people do not have too many activities. But this year Jiang had no choice but renting the Jordan Hall on February. She had already predicted the consequence.
Although the heavy snow caused many cancellations that evening, over 600 audiences still showed up. Liu Ming, an engineer who lived in Worcester, drove almost one hour to the concert with his friend. “We have concerts in Worcester too. But I heard this concert will play Chinese folk music, so we come,” Liu says.
Hong Jiang, a full-time computer engineer, loves folk music very much, and founded Yan-huang Performing Arts, a non-profit organization, to hold the annual concert series “West Meets East” since 1999. Playing Chinese folk music with western musical instruments is a significant characteristic of Jiang’s concerts. Since there were little chance for Chinese and American people to hear Chinese folk music in America and symphony can bring an effect of resonance, Jiang thought she could use this way to bring Chinese folk music into the famous concert halls in America.
Jiang had some experience in helping some local NGOs to organize small concerts. But holding a symphony concert alone was a big challenge for her in the first time. Since 1999 was the 50th year of the establishment of People’s Republic of China, Jiang wanted to use the concert to celebrate it with Chinese people in Boston. But this theme also brought some difficulties for Jiang to prepare the concert.
An important thing for holding a concert was to find an orchestra. Jiang contacted a local orchestra but they refused her proposal because the committee felt uncomfortable about the theme. Then she turned to the Newton Orchestra. The only concern of the conductor was whether there would be people protesting outside of the concert that day. Jiang dispelled his concern and cooperated with the orchestra for 10 years.
Find an orchestra was only a small part of the concert, having the excellent musicians, renting the best concert hall and spreading the information out effectively were all important for a concert’s success. Jiang did all these jobs after work by herself. Therefore the preparation job usually kills her almost one year. The busiest season for Jiang is to release the concert’s information which usually starts before three months of the concert. She emails to her friends and ask them to help her continue to spread the news, and the power of the interpersonal relationship surprised Jiang a lot. “I never thought people in California could receive the information,” Jiang says.
Besides sending emails, Jiang even sends the flyers to the mail boxes of the professors of music colleges or past them in the public bulletin boards personally. “I would do anything to gain the chance for people to see the concert’s information,” Jiang says.
The tickets of the first concert were all sold out, and this gained Jiang’s confidence to continue to do it. “I did not expect it, and there were even some people waiting for the returning tickets,” Jiang says.
The target audiences were the Chinese people, but Jiang’s concerts also attracted some foreign audiences during the past decade. In the Lincoln Center of 2002, it was Butterfly Lovers’ debut in American concert halls. “It is so beautiful that I am very confident the audiences will love it,” Jiang says. Jiang was right. Not only Chinese people love this music, but also do American audiences. “A professor of Columbia University even went to me to ask more information about this song after the concert, and he said he could not forget it after hearing it,” Jiang says. The conductor of the Newton Orchestra had the same feeling. “They played the music on their own performance,” Jiang says.
Another reason for Jiang to hold the concerts is to provide the performance opportunities for Chinese musicians. Jiang’s husband, Li Fan, is a pianist. “He is very diligent, and his skill is pretty good,” Jiang says, “but there were little chance for him to perform on the stages of American famous concert halls.” Compared with Chinese musicians, the concerts would prefer to invite local musicians who share the same background.
Yundi Li won the youngest pianist to win the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in 2000, but he was still a new face in America musical field. So Li’s brokerage firm, Columbia Artists Management Incorporation, went to Jiang and hoped Jiang to hold Li’s first official performance in America. “I am sure most Chinese are proud of him. Maybe he was not that famous in American, but I was sure that people would be interested in him as long as I could do a good advertisement job,” Jiang says. Li’s debut in 2004 got success in Boston, and Jiang continued to hold another concert for Li in Lincoln Center in 2005.
Since 1999, Jiang had held 17 concerts in Boston and New York. Behind the successful endings, there were a lot of accidents too. The 2003 concert was the most breathtaking one. Jiang invited Huifen Min, the famous erhu soloist in the Shanghai Folk Orchestra, to play erhu in her concert. Everything went well until the night of the 15th day before the concert. Jiang received a call from Min at 2:00am. “I felt something went wrong since no good call came during mid-night,” Jiang says. The U.S. Embassies and Consulates in Shanghai could not approve Min’s visa because Min was invited by an individual rather than the states this time. So Jiang got up immediately and worked on Min’s visa’s problems. It was almost impossible for a person to get a working visa within 15 days, but Jiang did not even think about giving up. “I don’t want to destroy the reputation I build these years, and I know if she could not come, the concert would be cancelled,” Jiang says. Jiang did not stop working until the noon, sent the materials to the American Music Association to get their permission, and then sent the materials to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to get an invitation which is required by the Consulate in Shanghai. Besides these, Jiang called the agencies every day to ask them to help speed up the process. “The usual processing time is 10 days, but if they issue the document in the last day, everything will be late,” Jiang says.
Jiang was lucky, and she got the document from USCIS on the morning Min Huifen went to the interview in the consulate of Shanghai. She scanned the document to one of her relative in Shanghai and the relative just sent it to Min’s hand before she went into the consulate. “I know it was easy to give up,” Jiang says. “But I told myself I needed to make it.” Min was also very thankful for Jiang. “Jiong Hong, it is your persistence that makes my American performance come true,” Min said when she saw Jiang on the airport.
Besides the spiritual pressure, Jiang also needs to bear the economic pressure. Jiang did not take any money from the Chinese consulate. Neither did she find any sponsor. “It costs too much energy to say good words when you try to get some funding from others,” Jiang says. So Jiang only relies on the income of the tickets, which is a very risky way to get an economic balance. The good thing is that all the musicians do not require a high reward, and they are very cooperative with Jiang’s saving money plan. In order to reduce the cost, Jiang usually orders the special price rooms offered by different hotels, and the musicians are all willing to move every few days with Jiang. So far, Jiang could just use the income of the tickets to cover all the fees. But there are also exceptions, such as this time.
In 2009, a friend asked Jiang to help open a new restaurant in Framingham. Jiang also wanted to have a different life experience, so she stopped holding the concerts for almost three years. Sometimes when Jiang saw a concert on TV, she could not stop thinking about her concerts. But she did not think she could hold a great concert for the audience while she was doing another business. “If I do it, I will require myself to pay all the attention to it,” Jiang says. Although the restaurant runs pretty well now and it seems to be a more profitable business for Jiang, she withdrew in 2012 when she finished the three years’ promise with her friend.
When she restarted to do the concerts this year, she knew she made the right decision. She paid a part for the first concert herself, but she smelled the freedom of doing the concert and felt the sense of accomplishment again. Now she is thinking about the topic of the concert for next year. There are a lot of uncertainties yet, but one thing Jiang is sure is that she will not hold the concert in February again.
Butterfly Lovers Played by Ding Xin at the 2013 West Meets East Concert