As reports of anti-Asian hate crimes spread in the United States earlier this year, David Kim, a violist in the San Francisco Symphony, found himself despondent.
今年早些時候，隨著反亞裔仇恨犯罪的消息在美國蔓延，舊金山交響樂團(San Francisco Symphony)的中提琴手戴維·金(David Kim)感到沮喪。
Kim, who is Korean American, was already disturbed by what he saw as widespread racism in classical music. He believed Asian string players were marginalized and treated “like cattle,” as he put it in a recent interview. “Like a herd of mechanical robots.”
And he felt his white colleagues in San Francisco, who make up 83 percent of the orchestra, did not share his urgency about building a culture more welcoming to Asian, Black and Latino players.
Feeling isolated and angry, Kim, 40, began to question his career. In March he resigned as the sole musician of color on an orchestra committee focused on equity and inclusion. And after the ensemble resumed live performances in May, he took time off, feeling on several occasions too distraught to play.
“I felt invisible, even though I was speaking very loudly,” Kim said. “I lost my passion for music.”
By some measures, artists with roots in China, Japan, South Korea and other countries are well represented in classical music. They win top prizes at competitions and make up a substantial share of orchestras and conservatories. Stars like the Chinese American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Japanese American violinist Midori and the Chinese pianist Lang Lang are among the most sought-after performers in the world.
Yet the success of some Asian artists obscures the fact that many face routine racism and discrimination, according to interviews with more than 40 orchestra players, soloists, opera singers, composers, students, teachers and administrators.
Asian artists encounter stereotypes that their music-making is soulless and mechanical. They are portrayed as exotic and treated as outsiders in a world with its main lineage from Europe. They are accused of besmirching cultural traditions that aren’t theirs and have become targets of online harassment and racial slurs.
While artists of Asian descent may be represented in classical music, many say they do not feel seen.
“You’re not always allowed to be the kind of artist you want to be,” said Nina Shekhar, 26, an Indian American composer who said her music is often wrongly characterized as having Indian attributes. “It feels very invalidating.”
The number of Asian soloists and orchestra musicians has swelled in recent decades, even as Black and Latino artists remain severely underrepresented. But in other parts of the industry, including opera, composition, conducting, arts administration and the boards of leading cultural institutions, Asians are scarce. A lack of role models has exacerbated the problem, artists say, making success in these fields seem elusive.
“At times, you feel like an endangered species,” said Xian Zhang, the music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Zhang is one of a small number of Asian female conductors leading major ensembles.
「有時候，你會覺得自己好像瀕危物種，」紐澤西交響樂團(New Jersey Symphony Orchestra)音樂總監張弦說。張弦是為數不多領導大型樂團的亞裔女性指揮家之一。
Zhang, who is Chinese American, said she has at times had difficulty persuading male musicians to take her seriously, including during appearances as a guest conductor in Europe. “They don’t quite know how to react seeing an Asian woman on the podium telling them what to do,” she said.
The recent rise in reports of anti-Asian hate has aroused calls for change. Musicians have formed advocacy groups and have called on cultural organizations to add Asian leaders and to more prominently feature Asian artists and composers.
But classical music has long been resistant to evolution. Deep-seated stereotypes about Asians continue to surface. In June, the eminent violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman was widely denounced after he invoked racist stereotypes about Asians during a Juilliard master class. He later apologized.
Even some of the industry’s most successful artists say a climate of casual racism has affected their careers. Sumi Jo, 58, a renowned coloratura soprano from South Korea, described having several roles rescinded because stage directors thought she was not white enough.
“If you’re Asian and you want to be successful,” she said, “you must work 100 times harder, that’s for sure.”
Artists of Asian descent have long been the subject of racist tropes and slurs, dating back to at least the 1960s and ’70s, when musicians immigrated to the United States from Japan, Korea and other parts of East Asia to study and perform. A 1967 report in Time magazine, titled “Invasion From the Orient,” reflected the thinking of the era.
“The stringed instruments were physically ideal for the Orientals: Their nimble fingers, so proficient in delicate calligraphy and other crafts, adapted easily to the demands of the fingerboard,” the article said.
Over time, Asian artists gained a foothold in orchestras and on the concert circuit. By 2014, the last year for which data is available, musicians of Asian descent made up about 9 percent of large ensembles, according to the League of American Orchestras; in the United States, Asians represent about 6 percent of the population. In renowned groups like the New York Philharmonic, the number is even higher: Asians now account for a third of that orchestra. (In Europe, it’s often a different story: In the London Symphony Orchestra, for example, three of 82 players, or less than 4 percent, have Asian roots, while Asians make up more than 18 percent of London’s population.)
隨著時間推移，亞裔藝術家在管弦樂團和音樂會舞台上得以立足。根據美國交響樂團聯盟(League of American Orchestras)的數據，截至2014年（有數據可查的最後一年），亞裔音樂家在大型樂團中所佔比例約為9%；亞裔在美國所佔人口比例約為6%。在紐約愛樂樂團(New York Philharmonic)等知名樂團，這個數字甚至更高：該樂團如今有三分之一的成員都是亞裔。（歐洲情況往往不同：例如倫敦交響樂團[London Symphony Orchestra]的82位樂手中只有三人是亞洲血統，佔比不到4%，而倫敦亞裔人口比例超過18%。）
Yet racist portrayals of Asian artists have persisted. Some have been told by conductors that they look like computer engineers, not classical musicians. Others have been described by audition committees as too weak and youthful to be taken seriously. Still others have been told their names are too foreign to pronounce or remember.
“You get written off as an automaton,” said Akiko Tarumoto, the assistant concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
「你被當作一個機器人給否定掉了，」洛杉磯愛樂樂團(Los Angeles Philharmonic)副首席小提琴手樽元亞希子（Akiko Tarumoto，音）說。
Tarumoto, 44, who is Japanese American, said that musicians of Asian descent in the Philharmonic are sometimes mistaken for each other, and in other ensembles she had heard fellow musicians refer to new hires simply as “Chinese girls.”
Celebrated soloists have tried to turn the stereotypes on their head. Lang Lang has said that his embrace of an exuberantly expressive style may have been in part a reaction to perceptions that Asians are cold and reserved.
Yuja Wang, another Chinese pianist, has tried, with mixed success, to satirize the stereotype of Asians as robots, which scholars attribute partly to misconceptions about the Suzuki method of teaching music. (It originated in Japan in the 1950s and was criticized in the West for producing homogeneous musicians, but remains in wide use, including among non-Asian students.) In 2019, Wang joined a comedy duo for a contentious concert at Carnegie Hall that was filled with crude jokes about her sexual appeal and Chinese heritage.
Wang, 34, said in an interview that early in her career she faced stereotypes that she was technically adept but emotionally shallow. “I didn’t like how they just categorized us and pigeonholed us,” she said.
While she said she has rarely experienced overt racism, Wang said she has at times felt like an outsider in the industry, including when others mispronounce her name or do not appear to take her seriously.
Other prominent soloists have been reluctant to speak publicly about race. Lang, Yo-Yo Ma, Midori and the star pianist Mitsuko Uchida declined to comment for this article.
Zubin Mehta, 85, an Indian-born conductor who is a towering figure in the field, said he had never experienced racism and did not believe the industry discriminated against Asians. He said he had “complete sympathy” for those who felt they were mistreated, but that he was not aware of serious problems.
Ray Chen, a Taiwanese Australian violinist who has built a wide following on social media, said that audience members have expressed surprise that he can play Mendelssohn and other composers, saying that music is not in his blood. While he believes there is less discrimination now, he said he struggled to get opportunities in Europe earlier in his career — in part, he felt, because of his Asian heritage.
“People get offended that you’re not adhering to the rules, the culture,” said Chen, 32. “This is something that’s so wrong with the classical music industry: the fear of something new.”
Female artists of Asian descent say they face additional obstacles, including stereotypes that they are exotic and obedient. Soyeon Kate Lee, 42, a Korean American pianist, said a conductor once described her in front of other orchestra leaders as “cheap and good” and suggested she perform a lap dance.
亞裔女性藝術家則表示，她們還面臨著其他障礙，包括對她們的刻板印象，認為她們是有異域風情的、順從的。42歲的韓裔美籍鋼琴家素妍·凱特·李（Soyeon Kate Lee，音）透露，一位指揮家曾在其他樂團負責人面前說她「質優價廉」，並建議她跳一段大腿舞。
Xenophobic suggestions that Asians are taking away orchestra jobs or spots at conservatories are also common. Yuka Kadota, a violinist for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, said Asian musicians are seen as “some sort of invasive species, like carp or murder hornets.”
仇外情緒也很普遍，認為亞裔搶走了管弦樂團的工作或音樂學院的名額。密爾瓦基交響樂團(Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)的小提琴家角田佑佳（Yuka Kadota，音）說，亞裔音樂家被視為「某種入侵物種，就像鯉魚或殺人黃蜂」。
Kadota, 43, who is Japanese American, said she felt “self-conscious and slightly apologetic” during a recent performance of a Brahms string quintet, because four of the five players were women of Asian descent.
“I don’t want people to think we’re taking over,” she said.
A Dearth of Asian Artists
Even as people of Asian descent make strides in orchestras, they remain underrepresented in many parts of the music industry, including conducting, composition and opera.
“I try to accept rejections as part of my reality,” said the conductor Mei-Ann Chen, the music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta and the incoming leader of Recreation — Grosses Orchester Graz in Austria.
「我試著把拒絕當作現實的一部分來接受，」指揮家陳美安說道，她是芝加哥小交響樂團(Chicago Sinfonietta)音樂總監，並即將就任奧地利格拉茲創藝樂團(Recreation — Grosses Orchester Graz)首席指揮。
Chen, 48, who is from Taiwan, said donors had canceled meetings and presenters had withdrawn performance opportunities after learning she was Asian. “I had to have a thick skin to come this far,” she said.
Arts organizations have in recent years vowed to feature works by a wider range of composers. But artists of Asian descent say that, aside from concerts to celebrate holidays such as the Lunar New Year, they have largely been left out.
Works by Asian composers comprise about 2 percent of pieces planned by American orchestras in the 2021-22 season, according to an analysis of 88 orchestras by the Institute for Composer Diversity at the State University of New York at Fredonia.
根據紐約州立大學弗裡多尼亞分校(State University of New York at Fredonia)的作曲人多元化研究所(Institute for Composer Diversity)對88家管弦樂團的分析，在2021-22演出季美國管弦樂團的計劃曲目中，只有約2%是亞裔作曲家的作品。
The dearth of Asian artists is particularly striking in opera, which has long struggled with a lack of racial diversity. At the Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts organization in the United States, 14 of 233 singers announced for principal roles next season, or about 6 percent, are of Asian descent. Four appear in the same production: an abridged holiday version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Asians make up about 14 percent of New York City’s population.)
亞裔藝術家的稀缺在歌劇領域尤為突出。長期以來，歌劇一直在與缺乏種族多元化作鬥爭。大都會歌劇院(Metropolitan Opera)作為美國最大的表演藝術組織，在已經宣布的下個演出季主要角色的233位演唱者中，只有14位——也就是大約6%——是亞裔。其中四人都在同一個作品裡：莫扎特《魔笛》(The Magic Flute)的節日簡化版。（亞裔約佔紐約市人口的14%。）
There are now a large number of Asians in important conservatory vocal programs; the Manhattan School of Music said that 47 percent of the students currently in its vocal arts department are of Asian descent. But they are not anywhere close to that well represented on opera stages.
如今音樂學院的重點聲樂課程都有大量的亞裔學生；曼哈頓音樂學院(Manhattan School of Music)表示，該校聲樂藝術系目前47%的學生是亞裔。但這些亞裔在歌劇舞台上遠沒有得到足夠的呈現。
Nicholas Phan, 42, a tenor of Chinese and Greek descent, said Asians tend to be seen as technically precise yet artistically vacuous. A teacher of Phan’s once told him he should adopt a non-Chinese surname so that competition judges and casting directors would not view him as “just another dumb Asian singer.”
When Asians win spots in opera productions, they are often typecast in roles such as Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly” or the titular princess in “Turandot.” Those classics have been criticized for racist portrayals of Asians — though the prominent soprano He Hui, who is Chinese, said she loved singing Butterfly, one of her signature parts.
當亞裔在歌劇作品中獲得一席之地，所能扮演往往是《蝴蝶夫人》(Madama Butterfly)中的巧巧桑(Cio-Cio San)，或是《圖蘭朵》(Turandot)中的公主這類同質角色。這些經典作品都因對亞洲人的種族主義描繪而受到批評——但著名中國女高音和慧說，她喜歡唱《蝴蝶夫人》，這是她的代表角色之一。
Nina Yoshida Nelsen, a mezzo-soprano, said that of more than 180 performances she had given in the past decade, only nine were in roles that are not considered stereotypically Asian.
女中音妮娜·吉田·尼爾森（Nina Yoshida Nelsen，音）表示，在過去10年她參與的180多場演出裡，只有九場的角色算不上典型的亞洲人。
“My success has been predicated on my tokenization,” said Nelsen, 41, who is half Japanese. She wrote a Facebook post in March calling on others to “stop seeing my color and the shape of my eyes as something different — something to ‘typecast.’”
Within a week, Nelsen said, she had three offers, none of them for stereotypical roles.
Pushing for Change
“It’s time for us to speak up and not be afraid,” said Sou-Chun Su, 53, a Taiwan-born violinist in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since 1990. It was difficult, he said, to get leaders of the orchestra interested in concerns raised by Asian players until six people of Asian descent were shot and killed in Atlanta in March, which prompted widespread outcry.
“It shouldn’t have taken something like that,” Su said. (In a statement, the orchestra said it was working to build a more inclusive culture, though it acknowledged “we have much more to do.”)
Hyeyung Yoon, a former member of the Chiara String Quartet, last year founded Asian Musical Voices of America, an alliance of artists, because she felt performers of Asian descent had no forum to discuss issues of racism and identity. The group hosts monthly meetings on Zoom.
尹惠英（Hyeyung Yoon，音）曾是基婭拉弦樂四重奏(Chiara String Quartet)的成員，她認為亞裔表演者沒有討論種族主義和身份問題的論壇，因此於去年成立了藝術家聯盟「美國亞裔音樂之聲」(Asian Musical Voices of America)。該組織每月在Zoom上舉行會議。
Yoon said cultural institutions often exclude Asians from discussions about bringing more diversity to classical music because they are assumed to be adequately represented. “The Asian experience is hardly present,” she said.
Some artists have taken to social media to challenge their employers. Miran Kim, a violinist of South Korean descent in the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra, recently wrote on Twitter about her “exhaustion and frustration” playing works with racist caricatures, such as “Madama Butterfly.” She also criticized the Met for selling a Butterfly-themed sleep mask described as evoking “exotic elegance” and mimicking “the alluring eyes of an Indian princess or Japanese Geisha girl.” (The mask was removed from the online store and the Met apologized.)
一些藝術家在社群媒體上挑戰他們的僱主。大都會歌劇院(Metropolitan Opera)管弦樂團的韓裔小提琴家米蘭·金(Miran Kim)最近在Twitter上寫道，她在演奏了《蝴蝶夫人》等帶有種族主義誇張意味的作品時，感到「疲憊和沮喪」。她還批評大都會歌劇院出售一款蝴蝶夫人主題的睡眠眼罩，稱其喚起「異國情調的優雅」，是在模仿「印度公主或日本藝妓的迷人眼睛」。(眼罩已從網店下架，大都會歌劇院為此表示道歉。)
“We’re not included,” Kim, 31, said in an interview, referring to the lack of Asians in leadership positions. “We’re not part of the conversation.”
There have been some signs of progress. San Francisco Opera will next month welcome Eun Sun Kim, a South Korean conductor, as its music director, the first woman to hold such a post at a major American opera company.
目前有了一些進展的跡象。美國舊金山歌劇院(San Francisco Opera)將於下個月迎來韓國指揮家金恩善(Eun Sun Kim)出任音樂總監。她是第一位在美國主要的歌劇院中擔任音樂總監的女性。
Yet significant challenges remain. David Kim, the violist at the San Francisco Symphony who is questioning his career, said he has grown tired of clashing with colleagues over issues like the tone of public statements on racism. He also feels the orchestra does not do enough to feature composers of color.
Kim, who has played in the ensemble since 2009, said he is grappling with a sense of loss after realizing that his work as a classical musician no longer aligns with his values. “I’m not proud of being a part of an industry that is so self-unaware, that’s so entitled and has so little regard for social justice,” he said.
He says he believes change will not come until classical music — “racism disguised as art,” he called it — reckons with its legacy of intolerance.
“On the surface, Asians are accepted in these realms of orchestras, ensembles and as soloists,” Kim said. “But are we really accepted?”