US orchestra enters road to decade of China residency

Updated: 2016-06-08 08:01

By Chen Jie(China Daily USA)

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On her way to an airport in Philadelphia to take a flight to Shanghai recently, Allison Vulgamore, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra, listened to a chamber concert broadcast over Radio Television Hong Kong.

The orchestra was playing at the Hong Kong Cultural Center, where it started its China tour of the year.

Vulgamore joined the orchestra in Shanghai for two concerts and then another two in Beijing, finally wrapping up the residency program with two more in Macao on May 29.

In Shanghai, the orchestra played side-by-side with the Shanghai Philharmonic. In Beijing, in addition to two concerts at the National Center for the Performing Arts conducted by its music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin, members of Philadelphia Orchestra visited a few local schools to coach students.

It is the last year of a five-year residency program that the orchestra signed with the NCPA. Vulgamore was excited. She tells China Daily the collaboration exceeded her expectations.

What's more, she has returned with a new deal signed with the NCPA, prolonging the residency for the next five years in Beijing.

"We now have a deep relationship with the NCPA's staff. Five years ago, we had just met each other. Now there are many planning conversations, both about programs and residencies.

"The five-year residency is more than (what) I had imagined. There are so many layers to the partnership. The two orchestras know each other and influence each other. We turned from cultural colleagues to professional ambassadors and friends."

The residency is also special to Ryan Fleur, executive vice-president for orchestra advancement, since he joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012, when it started the China program.

"The residency is very encouraging and supportive. And we did many outreach activities we had not dreamed of," he says.

"We not only performed at the NCPA hall but also did many master classes at the conservatories, pop-up performances with communities, parks, schools and hospitals."

The orchestra also performed in Changsha, Hunan province, and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province - Chinese cities they hadn't visited before.

He says that the residency provided an annual reunion for the orchestra's old musicians who performed in the historic 1973 tour of China.

In September that year, the Philadelphia Orchestra toured the country as the first US orchestra to perform here after the founding of New China in 1949.

A year before the concert, then US President Richard Nixon had visited Beijing, signaling the resumption of relations between China and the United States.

In addition to their four concerts in Beijing, the orchestra watched a rehearsal of the National Symphony Orchestra, which was then called the Central Philharmonic Society, with Philadelphia Orchestra's music director Eugene Ormandy conducting the Chinese orchestra to play the second movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

The musicians from both countries exchanged gifts, and it was the start of a long-lasting friendship. The orchestra gave scores and received Chinese instruments.

The orchestra returned to China in 1993, 1996, 2001, 2005, 2008 and 2011.

In 2012, Nicholas Platt from the US liaison office in Beijing that helped to realize the orchestra's 1973 trip asked Vulgamore to launch a long-term program in China.

Platt is still a consultant for the orchestra and accompanies members in China on their tours. This year, six of the musicians who played in the orchestra in 1973 returned to China.

"The Philadelphia Orchestra brings us not only wonderful concerts, but useful knowledge and experiences in theater and orchestra management," says NCPA president Chen Ping.

"At the beginning, we always asked them how to do things. But now it's more about what we can do together."

The NCPA orchestra made a successful US debut in 2014, with help from Philadelphia Orchestra, he says.

Vulgamore says: "You cannot think of classical music in the 21st century without China."

There are more than 70 classical orchestras in the country.

"We would like to join hands with Chinese colleagues to develop the program, growing young audiences and make the orchestras live in a sustainable way."

 US orchestra enters road to decade of China residency

Musicians with the Philadelphia Orchestra take part in a master class in Beijing during their recent China tour. Allison Vulgamore (above left) is president and CEO of the orchestra. Photos Provided To China Daily

(China Daily USA 06/08/2016 page10)