Breaking New Ground At Shanghai Symphony Hall

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra will finally settle into its own, purpose built, Fuxing Lu concert hall this month, and with this momentous move, they will also welcome a monthly concert series, Contemporale, comprising of contemporary artists curated by locally based concert promoters, Split Works.

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra can trace its origins back to 1879. It was even known, in its heyday, as the “greatest orchestra in the Far East”. It is surprising, therefore, that the orchestra has never had its own venue, instead preforming at various concert halls around the city. However, this month, the SSO will finally realise their dream of their own concert hall.

Situated in the leafy Former French Concession and opposite old lane houses, the venue seems like the ideal location for this historic orchestra to finally grow roots.  The venue consists of a 1200-seat concert hall and a 400-seat chamber hall. It couldn’t be in a more musical block, with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music just around the corner and a string of music shops. It is a breeding ground for the next generation of musical talent in Shanghai. Sebastian Wang, Director of the Department of Artistic Planning for SSO told Talk, “It is one of the most well-preserved areas in Shanghai, and it's close to Shanghai Conservatory of music, the institution that witnessed the development of symphony in China just like SSO did”.


The concert hall itself was built from the inside out. The acoustics and internal functionality was the main focus of acoustic designer, Yasuhisa Toyota, who also designed the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Mr Toyota’s mantra was that he was building a piece of a musical instrument instead of a house. The designer employed hundreds of sound tests to ensure the perfection of the sound. The chamber hall of Shanghai Symphony Hall, the same hall that will host the Contemporal series, is the first venue in China to apply 3D holographic sound technology.


Shanghai is not short of options when it comes to impressive concert halls, but many of these venues tend to be rather introverted. Many are government owned, and already draw big crowds for top international and traditional classical talent, therefore are not as motivated to break the mould and try innovative programming. As a result, many are closed to all but the top international artists and promoters. However, SSO has always been a forward thinking organisation, ever since its establishment when it was the first institution to introduce symphony to Mainland China, and now with progressive Wang at the helm of programming, and with the help of Split Works, the Contemporale series might just effect change.

Each month this autumn, a globally renowned contemporary artist will play in the more intimate chamber hall; the type of which are usually reserved for traditional and classical performances. Archie Hamilton, CEO of Split Works, told Talk, “Classical music is traditionally a very conservative foothold by nature, and there is a lack of desire to take risks. The Contemporale series is the first of its kind in China and it will always be a little bit risky but hopefully it will open the floodgates”.

This is the first contemporary series of concerts in Shanghai and therefore a pioneering project for SSO. Due to the government’s Five-Year Plan and innovation goals, there has been a lot of support for the creative industries and many exemplary facilities have been built. “They build fantastic international-class facilities, bringing in big artists and concerts. But now they have built all these places, what are they going to fill them with? We want to try and create innovative programming. [All these buildings] need content, it can’t all just be New York Philharmonic Orchestra”, said Hamilton.

Split Works hopes to introduce contemporary independent artists they bring over to a new, mainstream, classical local audience who may not necessarily have heard their work before. It remains to be seen whether this crowd will appreciate the modern artists. However, Hamilton hopes that they will take the new experience into their hearts.

SSO’s Wang is more pragmatic, “We believe that good music doesn't necessarily depend on the scale of production or performance group. We would like Shanghai Symphony Hall to be a place for the public to actually enjoy and understand the beauty of music rather than limiting the audience or ourselves”, said Wang.

If you are interested in going to witness this pioneering programming at SSO, Moonface, the alter ego of Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) will bring his anguished vocals and delicate piano accompaniment for the first Contemporale concert in September. Followed, in October, by Erased Tapes and Unseen Worlds’ Lubomyr Melnyk, the pioneer of the continuous piano technique. November will host the liquid molasses baritone of Bill Callahan (Smog). The series will take a break for winter after the ambient soundscapes of
Eluvium just before Christmas.



Poet and pianist, Moonface, will bring his neoteric sounds to Shanghai Symphony Hall as the first artist in the Contemporale series. His deep and gentle voice along with impressive instrumentals will reverberate around the chamber hall.

21 September. 7:45pm. RMB 100. Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Hall. 1380 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Baoqing Lu. Web: For more information, visit, com