By Xinhua writers Zhu Dongyang, Guo Yina
PHILADELPHIA, the United States, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- In the eyes of Li Zhixiang, delegation head of China's National Center for the Performing Arts Orchestra (NCPAO), the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of NCPAO's most famed strategic partners, carries special weight to him and his team.
"The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first Western musical body to come to China since 1949 - that was in 1973 when the U.S. and China had no diplomatic relations yet -- and performed Western classic pieces for the Chinese audience," Li said. "Neither of us would forget that page of our history, and friendship."
The frequent exchanges between the two leading orchestras ever since then have now led to a common sense of intimacy on both sides, as NCPAO artists went to local grassroots communities and streets to play music before their grand performance later on Wednesday night.
"It is not a special arrangement actually, to perform high art to the common people," Li said. "There is a shared sense of responsibility for the NCPAO and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to boost music in our cities, to make it more accessible to the grassroots communities."
But more importantly is the hope of both sides to give the U.S. citizens an access to young Chinese artists playing their music and the excellent pieces of the Western world, according to Allison Vulgamore, head of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
"These young men and women are generally in their 30s, and that is quite something, something awesome," she said. "Our Philadelphia people can listen to the works of Brahms, Mozart and Tchaikovsky as much as they like, but most of them have no access to Chinese composers and their work."
As part of the booming cultural and people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States, the NCPOA had performed in Chicago and New York before coming to this city, but they have some special stories for Philadelphia.
Earlier in the morning, eight young musicians played both Chinese and Western classical music at Liberty Place, a shopping mall. Their skilled performance of Jerry Bock's Fiddler On the Roof and Johann Strauss' Tritsch Tratsch Polka attracted dozens of shoppers, but what awaited them was beautiful Chinese folk songs, something elegant and delicate to them.
Maria Andriasova, an 82-year-old lady from Russia, said the music played by the Chinese young musicians were just amazing. "The music they played are reminiscent of my days in Russia. Our people there also like sad rhythms. But speaking of the Chinese, they have to have a heart to play up things so emotional."
Not far from the Liberty Place was High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where 75 students of the school band were conducting rehearsal of the theme songs from E.T. and The Lord of the Rings -- The Fellowship of the Ring, under the instruction of NCPAO Assistant Conductor Yuan Ding.
To 16-year-old Agnes Willianms, the Chinese teacher from across the Pacific Ocean was admirable. "The Chinese teacher gives a very good impression to our band and myself as well. He was very instructional, he knows how to teach us. It is a very good experience to get to know some other teacher than your regular American teacher. But I definitely wish to be able to go to China one day, and play Chinese instruments there."
Brand Ewing, a school teacher plus band director, was not shy away from complimenting his Chinese counterpart. "He was fantastic and amazing. The student enjoyed it very much. And he was lovely with students, very kind, very gentle. They played very well under his instructions. Also, I was very impressed by his teaching and I was very inspired by his communication with students. He was very capable, talented and charismatic conductor."
For his part, Yuan had very good impressions about his American students. "They are more out-going compared with their Chinese peers, but young students of both countries are passionate about music and playing them. I think they have made it to convey their feelings, and their aspirations through each and every note they played."
The U.S. trip was not just rewarding for Yuan and the students, but young orchestra players of both sides as well. "We got closer and closer as our performance goes on in different stops. My counterpart of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Ms. Vulgamore, said China is like their second home. And so do us. The historical, business and emotional connections are beyond oblivion," said NCPAO's Li.
"Besides bringing music to the common people, the NCPAO wanted the U.S. citizens to have access to the best works of Chinese famous composers, and that was what we have been pursuit of. The Philadelphia people listen to Johannes Brahms very often and as much as they like, but not so if they want to have a try on Chinese music," he noted.
Such aspirations helped unveil the formal performance Wednesday night. At the presence of hundreds of people, the NCPAO performed Violin Concerto No. 1 and Reflect D'un Temps Disparu created respectively by Chinese composers Zhao Jiping and Chen Qigang, as well as Brahms' Symphony No. 4, receiving long-time applauses and hot cheers.
According to Walter Douglas, deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs and public diplomacy and for regional and security policy at the U.S. Department of State, it was very good to see the Chinese and American people connect on personal level.
But to Nick Platt, a diplomatic veteran who went to China in 1973 with the Philadelphia Orchestra and witnessed China's dramatic development ever since, there were something deeper in his understanding of the Chinese-U.S. relations.
"Cultural exchange plays a very steadying role in our bilateral relations, it keeps our relationship on track. Everybody understand the language of music. We have a long tradition to go back to the very beginnings of U.S.-china relations. The daily exchanges between our musicians are what keeps it alive," he said.
"U.S. and China ... have been partners and competitors, I don' t think that will change. But I think the general positive part of our relations will last, because we have been so intertwined .we have no others alternatives," said Platt.