Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shanghai Social Diary

The view from a boat cruise on the Huangpu River.
by Jeanne Lawrence

Among the highlights of my crowded calendar in this cosmopolitan city were a visionary discussion of China’s economic future, a stunning concert by an opera star of tomorrow and an elegant charity ball ...

The 1916 neo-classical Three On The Bund was renovated by architect Michael Graves.

Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn headlined a panel for a “Three Talk,” one of an ongoing series of programs sponsored by Three on the Bund.

That’s one of Shanghai’s chicest addresses, an elegant 1916 neoclassical building renovated by American architect Michael Graves that is home to Armani flagship emporium, Evian Spa, the Shanghai Gallery of Arts, and four top-notch restaurants. (Think the Time-Warner center without the mall stores.)

Now head of his own firm and Chairman of the International Advisory Board of Citigroup, Wolfensohn, a veteran of two terms at the helm of World Bank (l995-2005).

Having travelled to 120 countries during his term, he is certainly qualified to share his thoughts on China’s changing role in a global context.
James Wolfensohn, former World Bank president, speaks in Shanghai.
Panel discussion -- Cherie Liem, James Wolfensohn, and Gong Xiao.
Wolfensohn drew an international crowd.
Cherie Liem, James Wolfensohn, Diana Sui, and Gong Xiao.
I was flabbergasted by his prediction that in the near future, China’s middle class will be more than 700,000,000 people—twice the size of the total U.S. population. Think of the consequences for the business world and the environment.

As if to underscore his comments, from the room where he spoke, we could see the colossal urban renewal project underway on the historic waterfront called the “Bund” along the Huangpu River. It’s part of the preparation for Expo, the 2010 World’s Fair, and yet another sign of China’s burgeoning economic growth.
View from the terrace of New Heights restaurants at Three on the Bund.
View of the ongoing urban renewal on the historic waterfront, The Bund.
Through-traffic on the Bund will be diverted to a tunnel underground.
The cupola of the beaux-arts building has a 360 degree view. The landmark Pearl Tower in Pudong across the Huangpu River.
View of the historic buildings on the waterfront that are being renovated.
Pudong, the futuristic financial center, on the other side.

It was authentically thrilling to hear Shenyang, a 25-year-old bass-baritone from the province of Tianjin, sing a program of classics at the magnificent Shanghai Grand Theatre in the concert “Shenyang and Friends,” accompanied by others from The Metropolitan Opera and The Julliard School.

Shenyang performs in Shanghai.
Titles are in Chinese and English as is the written program performs in Shanghai.
The concert was part of the week-long program which included master classes for 50 of China’s opera singers.

I’d been alerted of Shenyang’s huge talent by New York-and Shanghai-based Shirley Young, a former GM executive and chair of the US-China Cultural Institute. The Institute has been mentoring Shenyang since he sang at the Shanghai master classes with Renée Fleming that it organized.

Winner of the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, Shenyang is now a member of the Met Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Program and of The Juilliard School’s Opera Center, where his mentors and supporters include Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb and Music Director James Levine. He made his Met debut in April.

The concert here took place in the largest—1,800 seats—of the three performance halls in the Grand Theatre. The glass-walled building, with a dramatic swooping arc of a roof that’s particularly awesome when lit at night was designed by France’s Jean-Marie Charpentier.

Centrally located at People’s Park, the theatre is the Lincoln Center of Shanghai, the top site for performances and concerts of all sorts.

With my daughter Stephanie Lawrence, who was visiting for the month, I bumped into petite Ying Huang, a Shanghai native who also sings at the Met —another Chinese talent with an international career.

At first I didn’t realize that the glamorous creature in the yellow Han Feng designer outfit was the same blue-jean-clad young woman I’d met in New York the month before at a party given by our mutual friend Angela Chen.
Shanghai Grand Theater -- Shanghai's Lincoln Center.
Theater was designed by French architect Jean-Marie Charpentier.
The theater's flooring is made of Greece Crystal White marble.
We were invited to a post-performance reception at Maxim’s—yes, part of the glamorous Parisian restaurant brand—where Shenyang’s warmth and charisma impressed us and his fans, who included a surprising number of young people.

Try to catch his NY Philharmonic performance in Handel’s “Messiah” and as Colline in “La Boheme” at the Met so you can say you saw him when. He’s destined for greatness.
Jeffrey Zhang, prince of Kunqu, an ancient Chinese form of opera and me. Celebrity soprano Ying Huang with an admiring young fan.
Pianist Brian Zeger and Ken Nod with singers Julie Boulianne, Shenyang, and Erin Morley.
Friends Joanna Cappo, Adriana Mannering, and Roberta Muscarella.
Fashion designer Hang Feng and entrepreneur Richard Hsu.
Guests sign their name on a scroll -- the equivalent of our guest book.
Chair Shirley Young happily heads to the reception at Maxims after the performance. Soprano Erin Morley with husband John Morley.
Stephanie Lawrence with Shenyang.
Opera Patron Lady Linda Wong Davies, Shenyang, Shirley Young, Ying Huang, and Hang Feng.

The recession hasn’t hit Shanghai as hard as elsewhere, so at the Ball, the charity circuit crowd—some 300 of them—looked as cool and rich and glamorous as you’d expect of the crème de la crème.

Jod and Ivy Soonthornsima with Cathy Hau (center).
It was the fourth annual event sponsored by the Women’s Round Table Trust of the Shanghai Charity Foundation (maybe the title is shorter written in Chinese!)

The venue was the elegant Shanghai Four Seasons Hotel Ballroom, where I spotted Vivian Chow, president of the Trust, being interviewed in the lobby. She’s the sister of tastemaker Michael Chow, the creative force behind the sophisticated Mr. Chow Chinese-cuisine restaurants in major cities.

Her fellow organizers included Madam Chen Tie Di, the Foundation’s president; Madam Zhang Lili, Madam Jin Min Zhu, Mr. Yuan Cai and Madame Guo Kai Rong.

I sat with founding Shanghai Charity Foundation member Kathy Hau and an international group of tablemates. It was a happy table as public relation wiz Ivy Soonthornsima was thrilled when she won the so-called “lucky drawing” top prize of a trip down he Yangtze River.
Shanghai Charity Foundation & Women's Round Table Trust members.
More committee members.
Sisi Lu, Meike Fu, Richard Hung, and Emily Yu.
I noticed Vivian Chow, sister of Michael Chow, in the crowd.
This world-class event—the gowns were dazzling, the Western food and wine first-rate—was enhanced by the talents of pianist Makoto Ozone. He came from Japan to perform his jazz-inspired interpretations of classical music gratis, out of friendship to Hau.

The fund, which supports the cause of children with serious illnesses, last year sent its proceeds to the victims of the Sichuan earthquake.

At the evening’s end, the organizers held aloft a check for more than 1 million Yuan, a significant haul, especially these days.
Kavin Lee, Lisa Xia, Dandan Xu, and Huijun Qiao.
Christina and Peter Decu. Angel Xia and Lisa Xia.
Connie Kong and Peter Hierzi.
Jerry Wu (middle) and his guests.
Richard Hung and friend. Dr. Gerhard Hinterhaeuser and me.
Steve Chu and his guests.
Venue is Shanghai's Four Seasons Hotel.
A very elegant evening -- it could have been New York but it is Shanghai.
Honorees and VIPs sit at the head table, which seems to be the custom.
Grammy Award nominee Makoto Ozone played his style of jazz music.
Artists Barbara Edelstein-Zhang and Jian Jun Zhang. A surprised Ivy Soonthornsima when she hears she won the Yangtze River trip.
The Foundation raises over 1 million Yuan.
Cinderella may have headed home after the ball, but in Shanghai, there’s often a party after the party, and this night was no exception. Off we went to the glamorous “in” spot, the LAN Club.

While the first floor featured scantily-clad women dancing on top of the bar to pulsing music and a light show, our crowd headed for the fourth floor where the owner Zhang Lan and some of China’s best-known VIPS chatted quietly in a more intimate setting until very very late.

In Shanghai, where so many new, exciting, elegant clubs beckon, it’s not just the young people who stay out to the wee hours!
Afterwards we head to the exclusive LAN Club. LAN Club is the sister of the one in Beijing.
The downstair's entertainment.
The VIP's headed upstairs for some quiet conversations.
Plenty of room to dine.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York-based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.