What does it mean to be a global brand? The power of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s long-term strategic partnership with China will be vividly on display starting Thursday, when China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) Orchestra comes to the City of Brotherly Love as part of its first-ever tour of North America.
Other stops include Chicago, Washington, New York, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. But Philadelphia is the unquestioned highlight of the tour.
China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra at its home in Beijing
Upon arrival on Thursday the Chinese musicians will be greeted by Mayor Michael A. Nutter at City Hall. On Friday they’ll share their music people-to-people, with a free pop-up performance at Drexel University’s URBN Center, followed by a panel discussion featuring Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore, NCPA President Chen Ping, and Drexel University Program Director and Assistant Professor of Arts Administration Julie Hawkins. There’s also an invitation-only pop-up performance at the Chinese Christian Church and Center in Chinatown.
All this builds to a spectacular finale on Friday evening in Verizon Hall. The NCPA Orchestra, led by Chief Conductor Lü Jia, will perform Chen Qigang’s Wu Xing (The Five Elements); Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, featuring Philadelphia-trained Chinese superstar pianist Yuja Wang; and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. It’s a perfect blending of Eastern and Western traditions! (And if you can’t make it to the Kimmel Center, you can listen to a live stream, presented by Shanghai Synergy Culture & Entertainment Group; click on http://yunbomedia.com/ for more information, and to register for the webcast).
Allison Vulgamore is justifiably proud of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s ever-deepening relationship with China. This year’s Tour of Asia & China Residency (May 20-June 6) was Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s inaugural tour with the Orchestra. It built upon the previous two years of residency work in China, and continued to engage Chinese music lovers, both in concert halls and through community engagement. The tour included nine concerts and more than 30 residency activities, including master classes, hospital visits, and side-by-side concerts. An additional highlight of the residency was a side-by-side rehearsal of Wang Ning’s Ode to Humanity with members of the Shenzhen Symphony and The Philadelphia Orchestra. (Several members of the Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin performed excerpts from this work at the United Nations on September 22 on the occasion of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly at the invitation of the Global Sustainable Development Foundation, a new foundation focused on supporting the mission of the United Nations.)
Says Vulgamore: “When The Philadelphia Orchestra visits China, we witness firsthand how music can transcend cultural boundaries and touch people wherever they live. It is a privilege to share our music, and make music, with citizens and musicians across China. Now we have the honor of presenting the National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra on its debut North American tour, and watching and listening as they do the same: move people with their performance and prove that music resides in the hearts of all people.”
At the beginning of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2013 Residency and Fortieth Anniversary Tour of China the current Orchestra musicians who were part of the 1973 historic Tour of China were welcomed at an Arrival Ceremony at Shanghai Pudong Airport that mimicked the 1973 welcome. They were greeted by dignitaries, the media, and children who presented bouquets of flowers. Photo by Jan Regan
This laser-like focus on China has several sources. According to Craig Hamilton, the Orchestra’s vice president for global initiatives and government relations, “It’s in our DNA.” Going all the way back to 1940 and a benefit concert for China hospital relief, to the history-making visit to Mao’s China in 1973, to the Orchestra’s most recent visit this past May, the ensemble has a deep connection to the world’s most populous nation. And Hamilton says three years ago, when the Orchestra recommitted itself to being a global organization, it decided to build on its China connection, making it a true, two-way cultural exchange. This week’s Philadelphia events are, in Hamilton’s words, “the fulfillment of that promise.” He points out that the Fabulous Philadelphians have been hailed as best in class by the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs in China, and our own U.S. State Department. “It’s something that differentiates The Philadelphia Orchestra from all the others.”
Of course, another part of the Orchestra’s DNA is a true pioneer spirt: from recording, to broadcasting live on radio and television, to first visits to China and Vietnam, to streaming a live symphony concert, The Philadelphia Orchestra has always shown the way. These new heights of cultural exchange and musical diplomacy are just the latest step on its remarkable journey.