Every summer, young classical music students from around the world descend on Tanglewood in the US and Verbier in Switzerland to hone their skills, play with renowned professionals and have a bit of fun. The Canton International Summer Music Academy (Cisma) hopes to do the same for Asia. It may take a few years yet. On the eve of Cisma's opening performance, construction workers are still pouring concrete into the concert hall. 'They told us a week ago that we must play an opening concert and many of the performers are just getting off the plane,' says the director of Cisma's chamber-music faculty, Chantal Juillet. 'In the west, we would only play if we were absolutely ready,' she says. 'While I was conducting auditions for Cisma throughout China, some of the students came along after hearing about it, seconds before, in the hallway at school. They grabbed their instruments, walked in and asked to play. There's something very refreshing about this.' As with similar academies in the west, one of Cisma's selling points is its staff. The academy has engaged Charles Dutoit, who has been a music director with top US orchestras in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Also on staff are Lo King-man, former director of administration at the HKAPA, conductor Long Yu, and musicians from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Geneva Conservatory, the Royal Concert-gebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. During three weeks of intensive work, Cisma's organisers hope to train 200 students from academies on the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South-east Asia to become orchestral musicians, Lo says. 'This is very important, because for a long time the tradition in China, both in the mentality of parents and the habit of the conservatories, had been to devote all their energy to training soloists,' Lo says. 'But in fact one good virtuoso soloist may only be found in every 2,000 or 5,000 musicians'. Juillet agrees. She originally planned to begin training Beijing students in 1989, but moved to Sapporo, where she ran a similar music festival, after the Tiananmen Square crackdown. 'There's a lot of conditioning for solo artists here,' she says. 'But these students should be told right away that there may only be a small handful in China who'll make it and have a solo career.' Juillet says she hopes Cisma will instil professional realism, and introduce its young musicians to an undiscovered joy. 'My main goal is to give students the pleasure of working with other people, which was my first love,' she says. 'A musician's life is very lonely and you spend a lot of hours working and practising on your own. But now they'll experience the pleasure of gathering with other people and having musical conversations with them.' Many Cisma students dream of working in chamber ensembles in North America and Europe, but Lo isn't worried about his charges taking their training and running to the west. 'The world should be like that,' he says. 'We shouldn't tie brains to location.' Yo-yo Ma is Chinese, 'but we don't feel bad about him living in America, or playing in Geneva', Lo says. 'The pride shouldn't be tied to location, but to the fact that you have been able to produce and develop this kind of talent.' Gary Graffman, president director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and Cisma's director of the piano faculty, says that although there might be an initial brain drain the tide is beginning to run in the other direction. 'As China continues to prosper, there'll be more schools and concert halls opening,' he says. 'And as more pupils begin to study, they'll find more opportunities in China's own orchestras. One student who graduated from Curtis a few years ago has decided to return to Shanghai with his family.' While China prepares the cultural hardware in new concert halls from Shenyang to Shenzhen, Lo says that a lot of education is needed to turn these facilities into vital spaces. 'In China, there's an urgent need to create a general music audience,' he says. 'Although China has been developing for the past decade, it still needs to gradually bring culture to everyday people. But it takes time, patience and resources to develop the audience.' He says the generational mixture of audiences in Hong Kong is encouraging - but the overall numbers are still too low. He says he hopes the West Kowloon Cultural District project - he's a consultant to one of the developers - will help attract local and overseas audiences. Dai Weisi, 22, who has played the violin since he was five and studied in the US last year, is enthusiastic about Cisma. 'I think the students here have a solid foundation,' he says. 'But what I want to learn from my teachers is different styles and ways of playing.' Cisma students will showcase their lessons in style tonight, in a graduation performance that will feature an outdoor gala concert and a performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, followed, naturally, by a fireworks display.