Joanna Lee can do it all. The Classical:NEXT 2020 Jury Member splits her time between North America and Asia, never really spending more than two weeks in one place, Joanna has rare, yet vast and varied insight into the art music scenes of multiple regions. With the recent outbreak of coronavirus, she has stayed put unusually long in New York City, giving us the chance to catch up with her. Below, Joanna provides us with a front row seat into the life of an art music globe-trotter:
What is it about travelling that you love? And what does a typical trip of yours involve?
Both my husband and I fly a lot for work and pleasure (which often overlap in the performing arts world). We actually love air travel. I sleep very well on planes, and we use that time to catch up on books and films. One transpacific flight can accommodate an entire TV series, or a month’s worth of magazines.
Nearly all our travel involves seeing performances—and if it doesn’t at first, it probably will once we scour internet listings and consult our local friends. We also try to visit museums (art, history, crafts, or pretty much anything). More than the performing arts, museums (and how they present their collections) gives you a good barometer of the city or a country.
Not long ago, we visited the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila. The gallery arrangements are clearly an indication of how the country sees itself. You notice where they place their pride, and also what they refuse to discuss. The museum is free and open to the public, and the cross-section of local and international visitors we encountered was inspiring.
Being in the classical music profession, we also try to attend rehearsals, outreach events and pre-performance talks. In January, we were in Singapore for the local premiere of Die Walküre by the Orchestra of Music Makers. OMM organised preview activities the day before, featuring animated videos, talks, a backstage tour of the Esplanade and a sneak peek of a working rehearsal. This wasn’t about gauging the quality of the singers—most of them were saving their voices anyway—but rather to see the age range of participants and learn more about how OMM targets its audience.
We were really inspired at the actual pre-concert talk the next day, which was given by two young musicians in the orchestra. One was playing cello in the orchestra that night (and pursuing a degree in geography at Cambridge), the other was a former violinist who was flying back to London hours later to open his next term. Rather than hearing history from some local Wagner expert, we got young musicians sharing the excitement of how discovering opera had transformed their lives. Their synopsis of Die Walküre included family trees and cartoon drawings!