Philadelphia Orchestra celebrates half-century bond with China in Suzhou

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This photo taken on Nov. 16, 2023 shows a concert in Suzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province. Musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Suzhou Symphony Orchestra jointly staged a chamber concert here on Thursday. (Xinhua/Li Bo)

From the ode to friendship "Auld Lang Syne" to the traditional Chinese tune "Jasmine Flower," a concert was co-staged by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra last week in Suzhou in east China's Jiangsu Province, celebrating the renowned U.S. ensemble's enduring bond with China.

In 1973, the Philadelphia Orchestra made its historic China tour, which marked a thaw in the China-U.S. cultural exchange before the normalization of the two countries' diplomatic relations.

"We have performed Jasmine Flower since our first visit in 1973," said Ryan Fleur, executive director of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc. "We try to demonstrate how we care about the friendship with the Chinese people."

The association between the Philadelphia Orchestra and Suzhou began in January this year, when a concert jointly organized by the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, the Philadelphia Orchestra and other institutions was held in New York City and Philadelphia to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Themed "Echoes of Ancient Tang Poems," the concert brought the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to life with ancient poems interpreted by international musicians.

The resonance of this theme was further deepened during this latest trip when members of the orchestra visited a temple in Suzhou where some Tang poetries were penned, an experience that profoundly touched their hearts.

Several musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra also put on small-scale performances at the Humble Administrator's Garden and Suzhou Museum, both renowned cultural sites, drawing many visitors to stop by and listen to the music.

"The Chinese audience really obviously loves music and we are very grateful as performers...We love to give our music to the audience, and we love to receive the joy, the love and the applause that we get for playing," said Davyd Booth, a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra who was part of the 1973 trip.

Expressing his amazement at the significant transformations China has undergone in the past 50 years, Booth said he finds large Chinese cities "spellbinding" today. "This is my first time here in Suzhou. Everybody told me before coming here that it was one of China's most beautiful cities. And I can certainly say it indeed is."

Since 1973, the orchestra has been an active cultural envoy between China and the United States. Its 13th China tour, the latest one, was also highlighted by a special 50th-anniversary concert in Beijing on Nov. 10.

"I think these trips have more and more shown us the connection between our countries and cities... This is one of the most important relationships that we have," said Booth. "It's like we planted a seed 50 years ago, and it has continued to grow and flourish since then."

Fleur, echoing the sentiment, said he believes music can express thoughts and ideas that words alone fail to convey. "We are thrilled to be playing our part and letting music communicate between our peoples."

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