Shanghai Social Diary: Shanghai Conservatory Of Music, In The Former Shanghai Jewish Club

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Our group of supporters in front of the Shanghai Jewish Club, now part of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Two American friends, architect Ben Wood and international attorney Barry McComic included me in a planning committee hoping to renovate the former Shanghai Jewish Club, now used by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Their idea was to preserve the historic building as a useful performance space.


Founded by Russian Jews in 1932, the Jewish Club produced ballet, chorus, drama, and concert performances. It moved several times before settling at its present location in 1947.

The club and its grounds are today used by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, founded in 1927, the first music institution of higher education in China.

The Shanghai Conservatory is in a tree-lined area in the city’s former French Concession district, where some low-rise buildings and former mansions still remain.
The Conservatory, at 20 Fenyang Road, comprises several old and new buildings in a quiet garden setting.
Designed by architects Lafuente & Wooten in 1911 in the Renaissance style of brick and concrete composite, the former Jewish Club is now one of the city’s Heritage Architecture sites.


Shanghai has a long history of providing refuge for persecuted Jews. The first arrivals, in the early 19th century, were Sephardic Jews from Baghdad and Bombay. Some became prominent and wealthy entrepreneurs who left their mark on the city—among them, the Sassoons, who built the Cathay Hotel and Grosvenor House, and the Kadoories, who founded the Peninsula Hotel Group.

David Sassoon, seated, with his sons, c. 1840.
Elly, Lawrence, and Horace Kadoorie.
Shanghai’s Russian Orthodox Mission Cathedral represents the Russian Jewish presence still alive in the city.
Likewise, the Russian Consulate-General of Shanghai, established in 1896, has occupied this historic building on the Bund next to the Garden Bridge since 1917.


Ben Wood, Barry McComic and I, along with American landscape architect Dwight Law, met with Conservatory officials to discuss the Jewish Club’s potential renovation.

Wood was responsible for one of China’s most commercially successful urban development projects (he converted dilapidated Shanghai-style homes in the Xintiandi area, now a vibrant pedestrian center of dining, bars, and boutiques). He and McComic saw the Club renovation as an opportunity to preserve part of old Shanghai.

Architect Ben Wood, attorney Barry McComic, and Shanghai Conservatory President Xu Shuya, who graduated from the Conservatory in 1983.
Some of the original architectural details in the former Jewish Club.
The building is now used for Conservatory meetings, performance space, and classrooms (seen here).


As our group toured various buildings, classrooms, and auditoriums in the complex, we encountered a group of graduating students in their traditional robes. (The conservatory offers bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral programs as well as a three-year elementary and six-year secondary school.)

The renovation project is currently on hold due to the complexity of planning, but the group will continue to give the Conservatory ongoing support.

We stopped at one of the auditoriums to watch the students practicing on stage.
As we walked around the garden complex, we noticed a house in need of repair.
I was glad to learn that the charming house was being renovated rather than torn down.
Conservatory Representative Dr. Charlie Wu, Conservatory V.P. Zhang Xianping, and Annie Li.
An intern with Ben Wood, Jeanne Lawrence, and Barry McComic.


The Shanghai Conservatory and its students have outreach programs into the community, and enjoy adoring support from music lovers such as Michelle Garnaut. She is the Australian proprietor of the famed M on the Bund restaurant and its Glamour Bar. Opened in 1999, M was the first restaurant on the Bund, later followed by many more.

In 2009, Garnaut began her partnership with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music’s Atelier of Chamber Music, whose musicians now perform monthly at her restaurant. Her goal is to support chamber music in China and provide opportunities to young local musicians.

M on the Bund (center) is housed in the historic Nissin Shipping Building (built 1921).
In 2006, Garnaut established the M Glamour Bar on the floor below M. It serves as a lounge and special events venue.
M Glamour Bar has three bars, one devoted to wine, a second to Champagne, and a third to cocktails.


M on the Bund hosted a benefit to promote chamber music in Shanghai, at which guests enjoyed cocktails in the Glamour Bar.
Pioneering restaurateur Michelle Garnaut introduced the “Shanghai Chamber Music Lovers” event.
A live chamber music performance followed.
Attendees enjoyed an intimate show by the Atelier of Chamber Music.
International attorney Barry McComic and architect Ben Wood at the chamber music benefit.
Eric Wear and his wife Chuk Ting with daughters Brigette, Anouk, and Claudia.
Many guests introduced their young children to chamber music at the event.
Venture capitalists Jennifer Yan and Helen Wong were among the attendees.
Financier William Plummer, a director of Milestone Capital, with friends.
Longtime Shanghainese music supporters.


The M on the Bund terrace, amid the city’s glittering lights, is a fun place to dine.
M’s spectacular terrace view includes the iconic Pearl Tower across the Huangpu River. From 1994 to 2007, it was Shanghai’s tallest building, but lost that title years ago.
The colorfully lit boats floating down the Huangpu River are a mesmerizing sight.
Shanghai’s most iconic sight is the Bund, the promenade along the river lined with old colonial buildings.


In 1980, San Francisco’s then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein signed an agreement formally establishing a sister city relationship between San Francisco and Shanghai.

Since then, the cities have shared many cultural exchange programs. One of them is the San Francisco-Shanghai International Chamber Music Festival that the music conservatories of both cities have held since 2011. They alternate as hosts, and in 2014 it was San Francisco’s turn.

David H. Stull, president of the SF Conservatory of Music, said that the festival shows how nations can learn from each other through artistic collaboration.
Students from Shanghai in front of the SF Conservatory of Music, founded in 1917 as the oldest conservatory in the American West.
SF students and faculty at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, founded in 1927. It is China’s oldest institution of higher music education.


The San Francisco Conservatory developed the first chamber music degree program in the U.S., and the Shanghai Conservatory did the same in China.

The International Chamber Music Festival evolved after twenty years of a “sister school” relationship between the San Francisco and Shanghai Conservatories.

Intensive master classes, rehearsals, and coaching came to fruition when faculty and students from San Francisco and Shanghai Conservatories performed together.
SF Conservatory string and piano instructor Mark Sokol coached students from Shanghai Conservatory Middle School.
SF Conservatory faculty violinist Wei He coached Shanghai student cellist Menglu Li.
During the Festival, musicians from both conservatories perform masterworks, commissioned works, and student compositions, and give mutual chamber music coaching.
Shanghai faculty composer Guohui Ye rehearsed with SF faculty and alumni for the premiere of his work, Old Melodies.
Students from Shanghai performed Nathan Campbell’s Alpine Scenes.
Chinese composer Shirui Zhu with SF faculty members after the performance of his piano quintet, “Poem of China.”


Asian Art Museum Director Dr. Jay Xu with SF Conservatory Board Chair Timothy Foo.
Shanghai Conservatory Vice President Xianping Zhang with event co-chair and Trustee Rebecca-Sen and Chi Foon Chan.
SF Conservatory Trustee Jane Tom, Lucia Cha of The Cha Foundation, and Mei Nan.
L. to r.: SF Conservatory President David H. Stull with Nancy Livingston and Fred Levine. ; Libby and Barry Taylor, of the Asia Society Northern California.

Photos by Jeanne LawrenceVictor XieSan Francisco Conservatory of MusicM on the Bund, and Wikimedia Commons.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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