Philadelphia Orchestra continues China ties

Updated: 2014-07-30 11:27

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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In 1973, the Philadelphia Orchestra was invited by then US President Richard Nixon to go to China following his historic trip there a year earlier. Its performance in front of a fully packed audience at Beijing's Cultural Palace of Nationalities was the first by an American orchestra since 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded.

The orchestra, which has since become well-known among the Chinese, has kept going back over the past decades. Its 100 players returned from China on its 2014 Tour of Asia & China Residency from May 21 to June 6, going to the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Changsha, capital of Hunan province, and Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong province.

While the trip marked the inaugural tour of its music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin with the orchestra, the concerts in China were to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States.

Lu Kang, deputy chief of mission of Chinese embassy in Washington, applauded the Philadelphia Orchestra on Tuesday at a press conference held by the orchestra at the Chinese embassy.

"It is fair to say that the Philadelphia Orchestra has witnessed the development of China-US bilateral relations through its own music and people-to-people exchange perspective," he said.

Lu was glad to learn that the orchestra' program was enlisted in the deliverables in the fifth China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange held in Beijing early this month.

"Since the first visit more than 40 years ago, undertaken at the request of President Nixon, the orchestra's relationship with the people of China has grown, from a single cultural step forward, to a multi-faceted one that is substantial, sustainable, and as groundbreaking as our tour was in 1973," said Allison Vulgamore, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

She said the orchestra holds a commitment to cultural reciprocity and to sustainable cultural exchange. "Music has fostered our common understanding and shared commitment over decades, and even more so in the years the orchestra has returned to China," she said.

In early November, the orchestra will host China's National Center for the Performing Arts Orchestra (NCPAO) in Philadelphia on Nov 6 and 7. Vulgamore revealed that Philadelphia's mayor will declare the two days a "NCPAO Day in Philadelphia.

"The visit in 1973 was never simply a tour. It was the beginning of a critical diplomatic relationship that has driven trade, investment, education, culture, sports and much more between our nations," Vulgamore said.

Nicholas Platt, former president of the New York-based Asia Society, was the chief of the political section of the US Liaison Office in Beijing who helped facilitate the Philadelphia Orchestra's trip to China in 1973. He recalled the visit when he met Eugene Ormandy, then the music director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and other members of the 1973 tour to China.

"These were earlier milestones in our relationship with China," said Platt, who also accompanied Nixon in the 1972 historic trip to China.

"The Nixon visit was a grand geo-strategic stroke that changed the balance of international power politics forever. But the cultural, economic and scientific exchanges of 1973, managed by resident offices in Beijing and Washington, began practical relationship between Chinese and Americans which have grown in such a size as to drive what has become the world's largest bilateral relationship today," he said.

While the Philadelphia Orchestra's show at the Shanghai Grand Theatre on May 25 was webcast live to audiences all over the world, the performance by the NCPAO in Philadelphia on Nov 7 will be streamed live to audiences in China.

Philadelphia Orchestra and NCPAO launched a partnership in 2012, a pilot residency that united the Philadelphia Orchestra with talented young Chinese musicians and composers to further develop their orchestral skills. The residency also served to bring orchestral music, through performances and master classes, not only to China's major cities but also further into the provinces and local communities. That pilot program has since become a long-term partnership.

Greta Morris, acting deputy assistant-secretary for public diplomacy at the US State Department, described the Philadelphia Orchestra as "cultural ambassadors in this extraordinary and important global relationship" and "doing great service for both the United States and China."

"We greatly value people-to-people exchange for its central role in improving the ties between our countries' citizens and mutual understandings," she said.

Philadelphia Orchestra continues China ties

From left: Violinist Hirono Oka, assistant principal second violin Dara Morales, cello Jesus Morales-Matos and principal viola Chong-Jin Chang of The Philadelphia Orchestra perform on Tuesday at the Chinese embassy in Washington. Chen Weihua / China Daily

(China Daily USA 07/30/2014 page2)