Philadelphia Orchestra: celebrating 50 years of connecting China and US
Old friends
Published: Feb 21, 2022 08:47 PM
Chinese pianist Lang Lang (right) poses with Canadian conductor and pianist Yannick Nezet-Seguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, at a concert in Macao SAR, China on May 28, 2016. Photo: IC

Chinese pianist Lang Lang (right) poses with Canadian conductor and pianist Yannick Nezet-Seguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, at a concert in Macao SAR, China on May 28, 2016. Photo: IC

According to experts, people-to-people exchanges are engraved in the DNA of the bilateral relations between China and the US.

As 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of US president Richard Nixon's visit to China, and with the approach of the anniversary of US renowned Philadelphia Orchestra's tour to China in 1973, the first cultural exchanges between the two countries after the founding of the People's Republic of China have come under the spotlight once again.

Wang Yixun, a senior consultant for the Philadelphia Orchestra, revealed on Monday that over the years the orchestra has cooperated with many Chinese concert halls and musicians.

The Philadelphia Orchestra gave six performances in Beijing and Shanghai during its 1973 tour of China. During the tour, Chinese and US artists played The Yellow River Piano Concerto, one of masterpieces of Chinese composer Xian Xinghai. Based on a cantata, this piece has become a part of the Western symphonic repertoire, as China Radio International reported.

The orchestra also performed Beethoven's classic Pastoral Symphony and Chinese classic The Moon over a Fountain, so audiences could have the opportunity to appreciate the charm of Western music and instruments.

One violinist of the orchestra recalled the Pan Am Boeing 707 that took the orchestra from Philadelphia to Shanghai via Honolulu and Tokyo in 1973, saying that the tour was the most wonderful memory of his life. Chinese audiences were very enthusiastic and after each performance, they all broke out into an extraordinary round of applause.

"The orchestra's tour as a subsequent cultural activity of Nixon's visit to China also helped promote the normalization of the diplomatic relations between the two countries," Diao Daming, associate professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.

Diao added that the orchestra's arrival in China restarted normal people-to-people exchanges between China and the US.

Since 1973's debut in China, the Philadelphia Orchestra has returned to China for tours and performances for 12 times. The orchestra's latest tour was made in 2019 before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Wang, the Philadelphia Orchestra has remained very approachable for Chinese audiences, with many performances arranged for patients at hospitals or local disabled children. 

As far as Wang remembers, one musician from the orchestra always contacts a hospital every time they visit China and give performances for patients. 

The orchestra has also cooperated with ShanghaiTech University since many science and engineering students at the school are also accomplished in music and think science and music have something in common. 

The orchestra has been keeping pace with the times and has been trying to innovate by cooperating with Chinese musicians such as renowned musician Tan Dun, pianist Lang Lang and young composer Gong Tianpeng. 

According to Wang, the fast development and huge changes in China over the years have impressed the orchestra whenever they visit. For instance, during the last tour in 2019, the acoustics at the Shanghai Oriental Art Centre left a deep impression on members of the orchestra, who hoped they could  also have such an advanced music hall.

"Cultural exchanges between the two cultures have always been important, as culture can bring people together," Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.

Organizers should work to increase the number of cultural activities like the tours in China and Chinese orchestras performing in the US considering current China-US relations, Li noted, as the stronger bond of cultures can improve diplomatic ties.