Sunday, June 1, 2008
Two Countries, One Concert
Thirty-five years ago the Philadelphia Orchestra made an historic trip to China. It was the first group of American musicians to perform in 1973. This was also during the Cultural Revolution.
They performed at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities, with The Yellow River Concerto and Beethoven's Symphony No 6 ("Pastoral") on the program.
Neil Courtney played bass and remembers how this was such a significant event.
"We got to mix and meet with the people," he recalls. It was great to absorb the street life. Everyone wore the same blue or gray clothes, but the children wore very colourful clothes."
Courtney says it was thrilling "to recreate music for a new audience". He jokes he was altruistic back then, thinking music could play a role in creating a friendship between the two countries. But now, 35 years later, and a little less altruistic, he says music is still part of the process.
And tomorrow there will be a concert to "recreate" the event with the aforementioned pieces, featuring pianist Lang Lang and of course the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Maestro Christoph Eschenbach.
Among those in the audience will be former US Secretary of State General Alexander Haig, Anna Chennault (Cheng Xiangmei), as well as Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Chinese Culture Minister Cai Wu.
What's also interesting about this concert is the relationship between Eschenbach and Lang Lang.
It was Eschenbach who "discovered" the young pianist, who was invited to play for him for 20 minutes. It actually lasted two hours.
"He was impressive from the first minute," recalled Eschenbach. "I was drawn totally into his world of music making. He was already very mature."
Meanwhile Lang Lang only had praise for the maestro.
"I am very emotional right now because Christoph is the most special person in my life. He is the one who discovered me. He is my mentor in my life."
Lang Lang was dressed with artistic flair, a scarf tied around his shirt. He made his sponsors happy by conspicuously displaying an expensive watch (Rolex) and Montblanc pen in his breast pocket.
When he spoke, he gave a passionate speech, but most of the time looked a bit bored, or immature, even tracing his hand on a piece of paper in front of him.
But all eyes -- all cameras -- were on him constantly through the one-hour press conference. One wonders how he deals with all this attention and constantly being called a "superstar".
Nevertheless, he claims this concert means a lot to him as well, saying Philadelphia is where he lives and studied music.
While tomorrow's concert is for special guests, I'll be able to see him and the orchestra perform on Tuesday.
In light of the earthquake in Sichuan, the orchestra has chosen to waive its broadcasting fees and instead has collected donations from the players and corporate sponsors. So far they have raised over US$3 million.