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Forty years of music with China

Updated: 2013-06-29 03:34
By CAROLINE BERG in New York ( China Daily)

Forty years of music with China

Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra visit a children's hospital in Tianjin on June 5. The orchestra has a long history with China. In 1973, then-US president Richard Nixon specifically chose the orchestra to go to China as a cultural ambassador. Li Xiang / Xinhua 

Philadelphia Orchestra celebrates anniversary of ties with 2-week tour

When the Philadelphia Orchestra performed in China in 1973, the musicians found the audience's enthusiasm muffled. Forty years later, they felt like they were performing for a crowd at a football game.

"(Back then) it was like going to a golf match where the people would give this very polite applause that sounded like their hands were in white gloves," said percussionist Anthony Orlando, who has been with the orchestra since 1972. "Now, it's terrific — people cheer and shout and stamp their feet. I really enjoy the audiences in China."

Orlando was one of nine Philadelphia Orchestra musicians who participated in the 40th Anniversary Tour, which coincided with the orchestra's 2013 residency in China earlier this month.

"None of us could have predicted what would follow," said violinist Herbert Light, who has played with the orchestra for 53 years. "I think the impact from this relationship on our orchestra has been tremendous and resurged our visibility globally."

The two-week residency and anniversary tour took the orchestra to Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Macao for concert and pop-up performances, master classes, special lectures, a variety of community outreach visits, as well as anniversary ceremonial and diplomatic functions.

"(This celebration) is for more than the artistic quality and appreciation of classical music," said Craig Hamilton, vice-president of global initiatives and government relations for the orchestra.

"It's an appreciation in that moment of time when the Philadelphia Orchestra really cemented the opening of relations between the Western world and China," Hamilton said. "I think there are generations of people that truly don't forget that."

One highlight for Light, who returned to China for the eighth time with the orchestra, was hearing from the Chinese about their experiences and impressions of the initial exchange 40 years ago.

"One older guy said that our visit at that time was a catalyst for the surge in interest in Western music because there had been very little before that, if any," he said. "That was quite a revelation for me, actually."

After then-US president Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972 to re-establish US-China relations, the president specifically chose the Philadelphia Orchestra to go to China the following year as a cultural ambassador.

The group was the first US orchestra to play in New China and performed in front of a packed audience at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities.

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