“The future of classical music is in China”, the renowned conductor Lorin Maazel once said. That claim was picked up by Gramophone and the Washington Post, praising the growth of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Chinese music students. In about three decades, a few hundred classical music concerts per year has become the norm in Shanghai. The main concertgoers, thirty-somethings, aren’t just spending their time at night clubs.
When it comes to the best places to see classical music in Shanghai, we have both retro-style music institutions and modern cultural hubs to choose from.
The shiny butterfly orchid of Pudong cost a staggering 1.1 billion rmb to build back in the early 2000s. It was renovated in 2018 and currently is the most iconic classical music center in Pudong, within a few minutes walk of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. In 2017, in less than a month, both the Wiener Symphoniker and the Berliner Symphoniker sold the place out. The former played four nights in a row, presenting the complete Beethoven cycle of nine symphonies for the first time in Shanghai. The performances at SHOAC are second only to the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing in terms of number and popularity.
Its five "petals," designed by French architect Paul Andreu, hold the main entrance, the concert hall (1,953 seats), the opera hall (1,015 seats), the performance hall, and the exhibition hall. The whole building takes up nearly 40,000 sqm in total, and features a gallery of antique music boxes, as well as a French restaurant and a cafe. Last year, they teamed up with their previous partner HARMAN to remodel the Concert Hall. It now has a state-of-the-art networked system of JBL, Crown, Studer and BSS sound systems. Like a combination of Shanghai Symphony Hall and the Shanghai Grand Theatre, SHOAC also regularly organizes their own shows, lectures, and has discounted tickets for students and free admission days. Most of the tickets cost around 80rmb to 580rmb. Their program is available in English on SHOAC’s official website.
The Shanghai Grand Theatre is a few minutes walk from People’s Square and close to many historical landmarks. Its imposing arched vault and glass curtain walls, designed by the architect Jean-Marie Charpentier, makes it quite a spectacle, especially at night.
Opened in 1998, the venue was one of the first world-class theaters in China, and a major host for classical music. Its 1,800-seat Lyric Opera Theatre has a moveable orchestra enclosure and is equipped with an exceptional auditorium. In 2013, the theatre had a head-to-toe makeover for its stage system: Waagner-Biro‘s state-of-the-art CAT control technology. It also has a cafe, exhibition hall, rehearsal halls, gift shop, and a restaurant… The whole package.
Shanghai Grand Theatre has a national reputation for pulling in big names. Some of the highest profile operatic tenors and philharmonic orchestras in the world have performed here, including the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic. The venue also carries the prestige of being the only place in China to host all three of "The Three Tenors". Despite the high-profile musical performances on their program, at least 5% of the tickets from their shows are sold at discounted prices (50rmb and 80rmb). Most of their classical music concerts are priced around a few hundred rmb.
Shanghai Symphony Hall has become the best new place for classical music in Shanghai since it opened five years ago. Located in central Xuhui, it has plenty of nice bars and restaurants nearby, and is walking distance from two other cultural facilities: the New Shanghai Theater and Shanghai Culture Square. It’s the home of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, the oldest established symphony orchestra in China. The orchestra has formed long-term partnerships with New York Philharmonic, and more recently, Deutsche Grammophon.
The venue, designed by Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota and architect Arata Isozaki, has a 1,200-seat concert hall and a 400-seat chamber hall. Its modern look and top-tier sound have attracted all types of music lovers––aficionados and newbies, locals and expats. Their English-friendly program celebrates the rich dimensions of classical and contemporary music. In the past year or two, they’ve hosted conductors like Esa-Pekka Salonen, Krystian Zimerman (together with Philharmonia Orchestra), Jaap van Zweden, film composer Alexandre Desplat and electro-classical musician Nils Frahm.
Why do we think it’s the best? First, it's year-round. The venue serves as a free public space where people can hang out and learn about the history of the orchestra. Second, its autonomous approach to concerts is stellar. Alongside local promoters, the company books and organize shows and workshops. Their festivals, ECM and MISA, have brought a long list of fascinating collaborations between domestic and international acts to Shanghai. Third, tickets are reasonably priced, going as low as 60rmb and rarely topping 680rmb. The only downside is that they sell out really really fast, especially on their official website. For upcoming MISA 2019 events, though, there are still some left on SmartTicket.