Tour done, but melody lingers on

It started at Carnegie Hall in New York on July 11, and the next day all 114 mu­sic stu­dents of the Na­tional Youth Or­ches­tra-USA landed in Bei­jing for a seven-con­cert tour that gave them a “whirl­wind of eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ences’’, Niu Yue re­ports from New

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

The young mu­si­cians of the Na­tional Youth Or­ches­tra- USA who toured and per­formed in China this sum­mer haven’t been able to stop talk­ing about their time there.

“NYO’s 2015 tour of China was an in­cred­i­ble mu­si­cal, so­cial and cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence,” said 16-yearold vi­o­lin­ist Evan Falls Hjort of Fall City, Washington. “We had the priv­i­lege of shar­ing some of Asia’s most renowned stages with ded­i­cated col­leagues and guest artists while also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the beau­ti­ful tra­di­tions and icons of a coun­try far older than our own.”

Tommy Lin, an 18-year-old bassist from Sam­mamish, Washington, said “the tour was a whirl­wind of eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ences: mu­si­cally, cul­tur­ally and in­ter­per­son­ally”.

Matthew Chow, 19, a vi­o­lin­ist from Los Al­tos, Cal­i­for­nia, said the tour “af­forded us the un­be­liev­able priv­i­lege of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing how a pro­fes­sional or­ches­tra trav­els and per­forms abroad, while al­low­ing us to ex­er­cise the cu­rios­ity and energy that teenagers have so much of”.

Led by con­duc­tor Charles Du­toit, the NYO-USA, made up of 114 mu­sic stu­dents age 16 to 19 from 37 states, headed to China in mid-July for a seven-con­cert tour through Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Suzhou, Xi’an, Shen­zhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, end­ing on July 26. Chi­nese pi­ano vir­tu­oso Li Yundi toured as guest soloist.

The group for­mally launched the tour with a per­for­mance at Carnegie Hall in New York on July 11 and landed in Bei­jing the next day.

For most of the young mu­si­cians, it was their first time in a coun­try of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple on the other side of the world.

“Even though I un­der­stood how large China’s pop­u­la­tion was be­fore I boarded the air­plane, I was nonethe­less amazed by the sheer num­bers of peo­ple I saw in the streets, in cars, and in build­ings in China,” said cel­list Henry Sha­pard of Cleve­land Heights, Ohio. “I was very im­pressed by the con­stant growth in all of the cities I trav­eled to — ev­ery­where I looked, new con­struc­tion abounded.”

Chal­leng­ing mo­ment

One of the most chal­leng­ing mo­ments of the tour oc­curred soon af­ter the first stop in Bei­jing.

“Ev­ery­one was suf­fer­ing from ex­treme jet lag and was ex­hausted from the 14-hour flight,” said Hjort. “Dur­ing the first half of the con­cert, or­ches­tra mem­bers al­most fell asleep!”

Try­ing to re-en­er­gize them­selves at in­ter­mis­sion, they lis­tened to pep talks, drank cof­fee or grabbed quick cat naps.

“Re­mark­ably, the or­ches­tra pulled through, and the sec­ond half of the con­cert was a re­sound­ing suc­cess,” said Hjort.

“Aside from the jet lag, our ac­com­mo­da­tions, meals, and ac­tiv­i­ties were over­whelm­ingly com­fort­able and easy to get used to,” Hjort added.

The au­di­ences were over­whelm­ing, too.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard such loud cheers in my life,” said French horn player Ni­van­thi Karunaratne, 19, of Gurnee, Illi­nois.

“The per­for­mances went ex­traor­di­nar­ily well,” Sha­pard added. “In ev­ery city we played, the au­di­ences were sup­port­ive and en­cour­ag­ing — it was fun to glance into the crowd and see their con­tented smiles.”

“Each per­for­mance in China was bet­ter than the last,” said Hjort.

For the first piece in the pro­gram, Tan Dun’s Pas­sacaglia: Se­cret of Wind and Birds, au­di­ence mem­bers down­loaded a sound file to their smart­phones and played it dur­ing the open­ing of the piece.

“The ef­fect was sen­sa­tional and al­ways sent an ex­cited mur­mur through the crowd,” Hjort said. “The energy only in­creased, and the au­di­ence went wild when Li Yundi walked onto the stage. He im­pressed au­di­ences at ev­ery stop, and of­ten re­ceived at least seven or eight cur­tain calls.”

But their last encore, the theme from the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics en­ti­tled You and Me, earned the most mem­o­rable re­sponse, Ho­jort re­called.

The bassist Lin had never had an au­di­ence ap­plaud dur­ing a piece be­fore. “I had a huge grin on my face when it hap­pened,” he said. “The au­di­ences through­out China gave us a great re­cep­tion, and I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the con­sis­tent, ubiq­ui­tous stand­ing ova­tions.”

Lin also was im­pressed by the num­ber of chil­dren in the au­di­ences.

“In my prior ex­pe­ri­ence with or­ches­tral per­for­mances, there aren’t nearly as many young chil­dren as there were in the Chi­nese venues,” he said.

“From what I saw of the au­di­ences in China, they were much younger than our au­di­ences in Amer­ica. I saw many young faces, and even chil­dren, at our con­certs,” Chow agreed.

Said Sha­pard: “As young peo­ple, we are very ea­ger to make con­nec­tions to oth­ers, even if they do not speak our lan­guage, and we found that sort of col­lab­o­ra­tion very easy while we were in China.”

De­spite the hec­tic sched­ule, each of the seven cities they vis­ited im­pressed the young mu­si­cians, as did the peo­ple they met there.

“I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the fact that all of the public fa­cil­i­ties — air­ports, con­cert halls — were in such great shape,” said Sha­pard. “The new con­struc­tion was im­pres­sive.”

“I was sur­prised by how much English I came across,” said Hjort. “I was also pleas­antly sur­prised by how ac­tively help­ful and po­lite ev­ery­one was.”

As an ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dent in ad­di­tion to be­ing a mu­si­cian, Hjort’s fa­vorite part of China was the ar­chi­tec­tural di­ver­sity.

“I loved see­ing the tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture side by side with cut­ting-edge mod­ern sky­scrapers,” he said. “I was im­pressed to see build­ings in al­most ev­ery city de­signed by world-fa­mous ar­chi­tects.”

The au­di­ences through­out China gave us a great re­cep­tion, and I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the con­sis­tent, ubiq­ui­tous stand­ing ova­tions.”

Hjort said Shang­hai was his fa­vorite city of the seven. “It seemed so mod­ern, al­most fu­tur­is­tic. I en­joyed the Shang­hai Tower and the raised side­walks. It was vi­brant and bustling, al­most like a Chi­nese New York City.”

“My fa­vorite city was Hong Kong,” said Sha­pard. “I was fas­ci­nated by the in­ter­sec­tion of Bri­tish and Chi­nese cul­ture and amazed by the nat­u­ral set­ting in which the city is lo­cated. We played a won­der­ful last con­cert there, and I as­so­ciate the city with the tight bonds I formed while trav­el­ing with the ensem­ble.”

The young mu­si­cians also got to meet lo­cal mu­si­cians dur­ing ex­changes with lo­cal youth or­ches­tras in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

“We had chances to re­hearse side by side with and meet lo­cal youth or­ches­tras,” Chow re­called. “Dur­ing our dress re­hearsal in Guangzhou, the Guangzhou Sym­phony Youth Or­ches­tra lis­tened in, and af­ter­ward, we had a lit­tle meet-and-greet.”

“It was a won­der­ful dis­as­ter — our speak­ing butchered Chi­nese to them and their re­spond­ing in butchered English,” Chow joked.

The horn sec­tions of the Guangzhou Youth Or­ches­tra and the NYO are ac­tu­ally still in touch. “We have an ac­tive group on the app WeChat,” Karunaratne said.” We ex­change pic­tures, mu­sic and even ques­tions and an­swers.”

As Tan, Os­car-win­ning com­poser for Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon, told the NYO-USA’s tour: “Mu­sic, from an­cient times to the fu­ture, is al­ways a bridge be­tween peo­ple.”

“It seems as though mu­sic is one of the best ways for coun­tries that do not share a lan­guage to grow closer to­gether,” said Sha­pard.

Eileen Moudou, 16, a vi­o­lin­ist from Po­tomac, Mary­land, told China Daily, “By the end of the tour, I came to the re­al­iza­tion that, yes, they were dif­fer­ent, as is li­able to hap­pen with a coun­try across the globe from your own, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties were too ob­vi­ous and, quite frankly, com­fort­ing.”

Lin said: “With­out a doubt. Not only did Chi­nese au­di­ences get ex­posed to Amer­i­can mu­si­cians, but the ex­changes and in­ter­ac­tions we had with Chi­nese youth mu­si­cians helped build re­la­tion­ships be­tween youth that we will carry into the fu­ture.”

Karunaratne added: “It can be easy to de­velop im­pres­sions and judg­ments of a cul­ture with­out hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced it, and these tours are cru­cial in dis­solv­ing that. Their im­pact ex­tends be­yond sim­ply form­ing new friend­ships. They in­vite cu­rios­ity, and that, more than any­thing, pro­motes pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships,”

“These tours bring for­eign mu­si­cians from abroad and give Chi­nese au­di­ences a chance to learn about a new cul­ture, and give the in­hab­i­tants of that cul­ture a small ex­po­sure to the world be­yond,” she said.

Karunaratne talked about the mis­con­cep­tions be­tween dif­fer­ent cul­tures.

“It can be easy to de­velop im­pres­sions and judg­ments of a cul­ture with­out hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced it, and these tours are cru­cial in dis­solv­ing that,” Karunaratne said. “Their im­pact ex­tends be­yond sim­ply form­ing new friend­ships. They in­vite cu­rios­ity, and that, more than any­thing, pro­motes pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships.”

Sha­pard said he “would not be sur­prised if I end up spend­ing a con­sid­er­able amount of time in China in the com­ing years”.

“The mar­ket for clas­si­cal mu­sic in China is rapidly ex­pand­ing, and it seems like it will con­tinue to be a des­ti­na­tion for clas­si­cal mu­si­cians dur­ing my life­time.”

Hong Xiao in New York con­trib­uted to this story.

Con­tact the writer at xiao. hong­po­


Con­duc­tor Charles Du­toit takes a bow with the young mu­si­cians of the Na­tional Youth Or­ches­tra- USA 2015 in Hong Kong on July 26 dur­ing the or­ches­tra’s tour of China.


Mem­bers of the NYO-USA pre­pare for their con­cert in Stern Au­di­to­rium / Perel­man Stage at Carnegie Hall in New York on July 11.


NYO-USA cel­list Henry Sha­pard takes a spe­cial bow in Suzhou af­ter the or­ches­tra’s encore, YouandMe, the theme song of Bei­jing’s 2008 Sum­mer Olympics.

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