Dave Tam is Executive Director of the Classical and Jazz divisions for Greater China at Universal Music Group – the largest music corporation in the world – and he looks to the future. A veteran of the industry of more than two decades, Tam nurtures the talents of young Chinese artists and ushers them onto the international stage.
A native of Hong Kong, Tam believes that China’s impact on the classical music scene is already substantial, and growing rapidly, most notably in the field of piano music. “It is happening right now,” he enthuses. “In the last 10 or 15 years there has been a lot more exposure for Chinese classical artists on the international stage.”
Tam points to Shenyang-born concert pianist Lang Lang, who has performed with leading orchestras across the globe. “Lang Lang is now a superstar,” he says, “but when I worked with him at the beginning of this century he was little known, even in China.”
Such early support paid off: when Lang Lang was still a teenager, a music critic for the Chicago Tribune newspaper raved about the youthful pianist, describing him as “the biggest, most exciting young keyboard talent I have encountered in many a year of attending piano recitals”.
“In the course of just five years he developed rapidly,” says Tam, “and I feel very privileged to have been a part of that progress.”
Dave also highlights the success of Chongqing native Yundi Li, who in 2000 became the youngest pianist ever to win the prestigious International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition, which is held every five years in the Polish capital Warsaw. Li was just 18 years of age at the time of his triumph. “I’ve been working with Yundi Li ever since then, and I’m still working with him today,” Tam says, “so that’s been 14 years already.”
Universal was supportive of Li in reaching music lovers globally from the beginning. “We seek out artists with international potential,” Tam says. “This is what we do every day. Yundi Li signed to Deutsche Grammophon thanks to great commitment from our Greater China and Japan offices. That was how things got started.”
The seasoned music-industry practitioner, however, is reticent to take credit for the achievements of his protégés. “An artist succeeds because of his or her talent, charisma and hard work,” Tam says. “Our job is to discover these qualities and expose them to the public through recordings and promotion.”
And looking ahead, he predicts an increasingly bright future for a Beijing-born pianist that one critic at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper recently dubbed as “quite simply, the most dazzlingly, uncannily gifted pianist in the concert world today, and there's nothing left to do but sit back, listen and marvel at her artistry”.
As executive producer on many recordings, Tam is also active in reaching the Yundi Lis and the Yuja Wangs of tomorrow by introducing youngsters to the joys of classical music at an early age. Alongside an album by Chinese soprano Zhang Liping, another of his new projects is a Mandarin-language version of Sergei Prokofiev’s orchestra-accompanied children’s tale Peter and the Wolf, with acclaimed composer Tan Dun and popular actress Zhao Wei as the narrators. The result will be released later in 2014.
“There are always specific objectives for each and every recording, and with the Peter and the Wolf project we hope to bring classical music to children in China,” Tam says. “All recordings, however, share one common goal, and that is to preserve the artistry of the musicians for posterity.”