Philadelphia Orchestra makes music and friends in China

China is almost a second home for the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was the first American orchestra to perform in the People’s Republic of China, at the special request of President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, nearly 45 years ago.

Its 2017 tour of Asia brought the orchestra back to China in May, with stops in Shanghai and Beijing. “It’s very much a homecoming,” Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music director, said.

A man and a woman in an orchestra holding violins (Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)
Philadelphia violinist Booker Rowe (left) gets acquainted with a violinist from China’s Starry Sky Orchestra before a rehearsal at the National Library of China Concert Hall. (Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)

Since 1973 the orchestra has completed 11 tours in China and has participated in many special events, including the 2010 opening of the World Expo in Shanghai. “It is always a thrill to return to Asia and make music with friends and audiences on the other side of the world,” Nézet-Séguin said.

Young man gesturing with baton, another man directing him (Philadelphia Orchestra)
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, coaches a young conductor in leading a student orchestra at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. (Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)

Orchestra members did a lot offstage also. They taught music classes and performed for local community groups. Many of the activities were managed through partnerships with China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, the Shanghai Oriental Art Center and the Shanghai Media Group Performing Arts Division.

Rows of unfinished cellos (Jeremy Rothman/Philadelphia Orchestra)
Cellos destined for a Philadelphia Orchestra community outreach program in the production queue at the Eastman Music Company factory in Beijing (Jeremy Rothman/Philadelphia Orchestra)

The Philadelphia Orchestra also donated musical instruments to students in need in the communities they visited in China. The orchestra bought the instruments from an Eastman Music Company factory in Beijing, which has developed a “buy one, give one” partnership with the California-based company.

Orchestra performing in a concert hall (Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)
Soloists and China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts chorus join the Philadelphia Orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in Beijing. (Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)

Following Beijing, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra traveled to Mongolia June 2-3, where they likewise held classes, provided informal “pop-up” concerts and performed a chamber concert in Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital. (The president of Mongolia visited Philadelphia in September 2016 in advance of the concert.)

Violinist showing orphans his instrument (Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)
Violinist Phil Kates visited the Blue Sky Orphanage where he performed for the children. (Jan Regan/Philadelphia Orchestra)

Other stops on the orchestra’s tour included Seoul, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

“The relationships we make in cultural diplomacy around the world continue to enrich and inspire us,” said Philadelphia Orchestra President Allison Vulgamore.