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The Man behind the Music

 

 

Wray Armstrong, International Programming Director, Tianjin Cultural Centre Grand Theatre

 

Tianjin Plus is proud of having the opportunity to interview Mr. Wray Armstrong to get an insight into this incredibly talented individual’s life and work. Wray, who is currently the International Programming Director at Tianjin Cultural Centre Grand Theatre (TCCGT), has had an incredible career on the international music scene. His list of achievements to date is outstanding. He has been involved in a number of big events in China and around the world. Some of his key positions to this date include:


1978-1991: Artistic Administrator-> Managing Director in Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
1991-1999: Head of European office of ICM Artists, London UK.
1999-2008: Director of the Conductor and Instrumentalists Division of IMG Artists.
2011- present: Global Consultant for Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
 


How long have you been involved in artist representation?

I started in 1976, in Ottawa, Canada. I later went to work as Artistic Manager for Toronto Symphony Orchestra- which is like Programming Manager. Then for 5 years I was the Managing Director. I moved to London in 1991 and that was when I became deeply involved in artist management.

What made you decide to take this post at Tianjin Culture Centre Grand Theatre? Tell us a little about the TCCGT.

I moved to China 3 years ago and initially worked independently. I was recommended to the team at TCCGT as an expert for international projects. The opportunity was fantastic- I remember feeling like a ‘kid in a candy store’ because this grand theatre has everything I could want to work with. There are so many theatres in the West that would be envious of its facilities!

The TCCGT has been open to the public since April. How is business right now?

I think it’s fantastic. It’s incredible that it was constructed so quickly given the complexity involved in assembling the TCCGT’s equipment. Our crew needed to train fast and work around the clock. The concert hall is doing well. In some ways it is like the concert hall in Vienna. It’s perfectly designed in terms of size and layout so it’s very promising as venue. The two other halls are also very well designed and they allow for flexibility in performances, teaching and activities.

How does TCCGT compare to other grand theatres in China?

Firstly, the biggest difference is that, except the National Grand Theatre in Beijing, nowhere else has absolutely everything like we have here. The Shanghai Grand Theatre, for example, is a multipurpose opera house- maybe with one extra theatre. Guangzhou just built an opera house but it is just an opera house. Compared to everywhere in China- ours is the best! I don’t know anywhere in the world, not just in China, which has this kind of cultural centre of the city all in one place. The government and planners have been very smart here.

What are the differences between Tianjin’s public interest and that of other cities in China?

Except for Beijing, Shanghai and, to some extent, Guangzhou, there hasn’t been this kind of audience development in other cities. The advantage we have in Tianjin is that there are 40 institutions of higher learning- each with a sizeable student and academic population. They are our first target audience for classical music. I was very impressed by the President of Nankai University. During a recent meeting, he said that although Nankai doesn’t have a music department, they have a choir and an orchestra. The university offers students the opportunity to pursue these interests, in conjunction with their studies, because it wants to encourage the development of well rounded people; not just scientists or engineers. I suspect that this city has a particularly strong educational focus which may mean that we have an advantage over other cities.

What are your main goals for the future both on a personal level and as International Programming Director of TCCGT?

As a personal goal, health is the most important. I like being active so I will be trying to do this as much as possible. In my professional life, I want to bring the best of everything to Tianjin. We need to look at the whole, broad spectrum of entertainment. This extends to cross-over artists and pop artists; we can bring everything into the theatre here. My goal is to get the very best from all over the world to this centre. It is also important to remember that there are a lot of great performers in China- let’s bring everybody here. The second goal is to develop the audience. The best concert halls in the world are sad places if they are empty.

What do you think about the future of the classical music industry in China?

China’s classical music market is bound to keep growing. This city is the first to initiate this type of programming. There are very few places doing a planned, full season of events. As more and more programmers come onto the scene, circuits will develop and this will be great for the industry as a whole.

Mr. Qian Cheng, President of TCCGT has been said that “the world is blind, people are only seeking money”. To what extent do you agree with that?

Well, I don’t disagree with the quote. People are very ambitious for money right now. What would be marvellous is if we can add to their ambitions and money becomes part of the full circle of satisfaction in life rather than their sole purpose.

What would you say are your biggest achievements in life?

That’s a tough question. When I worked for the Toronto Symphony, we did an enormous education programme and developed the orchestra there. I am very proud of that. As an artist manager, I have taken acts and conductors when they were ‘babies’ and helped them through their careers to get to the top. That was very satisfying. I love being a pioneer and I would very much like to be that here in the Tianjin music scene.

What are some upcoming performances at the TCCGT this year?

We have something for everyone. We are bringing the Chinese Mama Mia, which was made last year in Beijing. For the families we also have Peter Pan. That will be a particularly good performance because our theatre is very well equipped for the flying scenes. Everybody loves the idea of flying. So that’s for the lighter entertainment. This summer we will be doing Gateway to Music. We will start with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for the July concert . That starts in early July and continues until September- with over 45 performances. When that finishes we have the Autumn Orchestra Festival. We are also planning the opera right now. So overall it should be an exciting few months at the TCCGT!
 

 

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