The Philadelphia Orchestra, an esteemed ensemble from the United States, is set to perform alongside the China National Symphony Orchestra in Beijing this Friday. This event marks the beginning of a significant tour with additional performances planned in Tianjin, Shanghai, and Suzhou. This collaborative venture holds historical significance as it echoes a similar pioneering journey undertaken by the orchestra in 1973, when they became the first American art group to perform in the People’s Republic of China.
The orchestra’s current tour, their twelfth to China, comes after an unexpected pause due to the global pandemic. This return is not just a resumption of artistic endeavors but also a reaffirmation of the longstanding cultural connections between the two nations. The US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, speaking at a reception hosted by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), highlighted the impact of the pandemic on international relations, emphasizing its nonpartisan nature and the resulting separation of communities.
Burns underlined the importance of interpersonal connections as the foundation of the relationship between two powerful countries like China and the US. The reception, commemorating fifty years of friendship fostered through music, was a testament to this belief. Yang Wanming, the president of CPAFFC, shared insights into the current state of China-US relations, acknowledging concerns but also recognizing a strong desire from various sectors in the US to improve and stabilize bilateral ties.
Despite complexities in the US-China relationship, Burns and others see significant common ground between the peoples of both countries. He advocated for more cultural exchanges, like music and sports diplomacy, to strengthen these bonds. Burns’ recent experience at a basketball game featuring American players in Chinese teams underscored this sentiment. He expressed hopes for increased travel between China and the US, emphasizing the role of tourists, students, and businesspeople in diplomatic relations.
Matías Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra, spoke about the unifying power of music. The orchestra’s efforts over the past fifty years have been instrumental in enhancing US-China understanding and connection. Tarnopolsky envisions their musical contributions continuing to bridge cultural divides for many more years.
Davyd Booth, a 74-year-old violinist, has been a part of this cultural exchange since the beginning. He participated in the historic 1973 tour and has been involved in every subsequent visit to China. His reflections on the first tour and the developments over the past fifty years illustrate the evolution of this musical diplomacy. The integration of Chinese musicians into the Philadelphia Orchestra, according to Booth, symbolizes the deepening of this intercultural relationship.
During their performances, the musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra showcased pieces blending Western and Eastern influences. They performed excerpts from “Flax and Charlock” Fantasie Quartet and an adaptation of “Lan Hua Hua,” a traditional Chinese folk song from Shaanxi Province. A notable highlight was their collaboration with the Beijing Philharmonic Choir’s children in performing “Jasmine Flower,” a traditional Chinese song.
The involvement of young performers underscores a shared hope: that younger generations will continue to nurture the legacy of China-US exchanges, carrying forward the mission of friendship well into the future. These concerts, beyond being mere performances, are a celebration of half a century of cultural diplomacy and a look forward to continued harmony and understanding through the universal language of music.