Man standing and waving over balcony and people clapping (© Jessica Griffin/ Philadelphia Orchestra)
Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj acknowledges the audience's applause at the start of the Philadelphia Orchestra's September 23 matinee concert in Philadelphia. (© Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra)

When Mongolia’s President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj arrived in Philadelphia September 23, his visit marked the first time a Mongolian head of state had set foot in the city known as the “cradle of modern democracy.” (Philadelphia is where the U.S. Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.)

Elbegdorj came to celebrate a new Mongolian-U.S. cultural partnership, announced in March, that will bring the Philadelphia Orchestra to Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. During his daytrip to Philadelphia, the president attended the orchestra’s matinee concert, where he was warmly welcomed by orchestra officials, musicians and audience members.

Woman standing at microphone onstage among sitting orchestra members (© Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra)
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s president and CEO, Allison Vulgamore, introduces Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj at the start of the orchestra’s September 23 concert in Philadelphia. (© Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra)

In June 2017, the Philadelphia Orchestra will become the first Western orchestra to perform in Mongolia. Its June 5–9 musical residency there — part of a larger Asian tour — will include two full orchestra concerts and special events throughout Ulaanbaatar. Mongolian local schools and cultural institutions will help sponsor these events, and local artists will perform.

Orchestra concertmaster David Kim, head of the first violin section, is excited to share “the best of art and beauty through classical music” with the people of Mongolia.

String quartet performing (© Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra)
During the official welcome luncheon for Mongolia’s president, a quartet of Philadelphia Orchestra musicians performs Mozart’s String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat major, K. 458 (“The Hunt”). (© Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra)

He’s accustomed to performing worldwide, but visiting Mongolia will be a unique experience, said Kim: “I might even try sleeping in a yurt one night!”

In Mongolia, the U.S. musicians will encounter both traditional and modern ways. Nomads on horseback still make up about 30 percent of Mongolia’s population, but luxury cars are a common sight in Ulaanbaatar, and some 4 million mobile phones serve the country’s 3 million people.

While Mongolia — a democracy since 1990 — is bordered by Russia and China, the country describes the United States as its “most important third neighbor,” and 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of U.S.-Mongolian diplomatic relations. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s presence in Ulaanbaatar is expected to strengthen ties between the two nations.

Two men shaking hands as a woman watches (© Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra)
Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin meets Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj before the orchestra’s matinee concert as Allison Vulgamore looks on. (© Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Orchestra)

A history of cultural diplomacy precedes the orchestra’s May 26–June 11 tour of Asia, which also includes the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing, the Chinese territory of Macau and the South Korean capital city of Seoul.

The Philadelphia Orchestra visited China in 1973, and it became the first U.S. orchestra to perform in Vietnam following the Vietnam War. Known for its innovation as well as its virtuosity, the orchestra also performed the first radio, TV and internet broadcasts of a symphony.

For a taste of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s spirited style, watch them perform “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” composed by Edvard Grieg for Henrik Ibsen’s 1876 play Peer Gynt:

In Ulaanbaatar, orchestra members will collaborate with Mongolian throat-singers and dancers, and hear traditional instruments like Mongolia’s horse-head fiddle (a stringed instrument with a carved horse on its neck). Along the way, they hope to create indelible memories — and lasting friendships — through the common language of music, one performance at a time.