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S48 Ep16

Beethoven in Beijing

Premiere: 4/16/2021 | 00:00:30 | Closed Captioning Icon

Experience the international impact of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic 1973 trip to China, offering a story of cultural reversals and a glimpse into the worldwide future of classical music.



About the Episode

Great Performances Explores the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Historic 1973 Tour and China’s Contribution to Classical Music in Beethoven in Beijing, Premiering Friday, April 16

Featuring interviews with Academy Award-winning composer Tan Dun, famed classical pianist Lang Lang, Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and more


Great Performances: Beethoven in Beijing spotlights the resurgence of classical music in China through the legacy of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first American orchestra to perform in China in 1973. Following the end of China’s Cultural Revolution, when Western classical music was banned in favor of politically themed works, the onset of “Beethoven fever” began. Narrated by American and Chinese musicians and historians, the film explores the impact of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic tour on China both then and now. Renowned musicians, including Academy Award-winning composer Tan Dun, Philadelphia-trained famed classical pianist Lang Lang, Philadelphia Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and more share their stories of how Beethoven’s music shaped their careers as China’s classical music scene boomed. Featuring archival footage and first-person recollections from American and Chinese musicians, the documentary brings the 1973 visit to life alongside a behind-the-scenes look at present-day tours capturing the dynamism of China, from its new concert halls to its tens of thousands of young musicians. Great Performances: Beethoven in Beijing premieres Friday, April 16 at 9 p.m. on PBS, and the PBS Video app.

Notable Talent

  • Tan Dun, Academy Award-winning composer
  • Lang Lang, GRAMMY Award-nominated pianist
  • Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera
  • Gary Graffman, classical pianist, author, and Curtis Institute professor
  • Jennifer Lin, Producer, co-director, author and award-winning reporter
  • Sharon Mullally, co-director
  • Sam Katz, Producer and founder of History Making Productions
  • David Horn, Executive Producer of Great Performances

Noteworthy Facts

  • The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 1973 tour of China was at the behest of President Richard Nixon. It was the first American orchestra to visit the nation.
  • After moving from China to study at the Curtis Institute, Lang Lang’s first return to China was to perform as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Short Listing:

Experience the international impact of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic 1973 trip to China.

Long Listing:

Experience the international impact of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic 1973 trip to China, offering a story of cultural reversals and a glimpse into the worldwide future of classical music.

Series Overview

Throughout its more than 40-year history on PBS, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

Production Credits

Great Performances: Beethoven in Beijing is a production of History Making Productions, produced by Sam Katz, Jennifer Lin, Jindong Cai and Sharon Pinkenson. Directed by Jennifer Lin and Sharon Mullally. Executive producers are Audrey and Martin Silverstein. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer and David Horn is executive producer.


Major funding for Beethoven in Beijing is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Lisa Kabnick & John McFadden, Marie and Joseph Field, the Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, the CHG Charitable Trust, The Morningside Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, Lozenge and Osagie Imasogie, the Hess Foundation, the 25th Century Foundation, The Better Angels Society, the Zisman Family Foundation, and The Philadelphia Foundation. Major funding for Great Performances is provided by The Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, Rosalind P. Walter, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, the Seton Melvin Charitable Trust, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Jody and John Arnhold, The Starr Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, and PBS.

Websites:,, @GPerfPBS #GreatPerformancesPBS


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♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -The Philadelphia Orchestra's historic influence in China.

-They're going to invite the Philadelphia Symphony to come to China.

-That's wonderful.

-We didn't know what to expect.

And even on the trip over there, things were still unfolding.

-Mrs. Mao had expressed disfavor at 'Beethoven's Fifth.'

-That's the first time I heard orchestral sound.

[ Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 5' playing ] It's Beethoven. ♪ Buhm-buhm-buhm-buhm! ♪ [ Choir singing ] -It's not a Western music. It's not -- It doesn't belong to Germany or -- or Austria or Russia.

It belongs to the world.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Indistinct conversations ] [ Instruments warming up ] ♪♪♪ -Hey. I'm good. I'm good. I'm good. Yep. Right here? Okay.

-Two questions. -Yeah.

-Okay. Can I? Sorry. Can I? -Yep. Yep.

-So, here? Yeah? -Yeah.

-Impression of our sound.

And I think these pieces like Bruckner, like Sibelius, and Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff, they're all in the DNA of the orchestra.

For many years, the Philadelphia Orchestra has been coming and sharing their passion for Western music to Chinese musicians and Chinese young people, and now we have Chinese musicians in orchestra in Philadelphia... ♪♪♪ -[ Laughter ] -[ Person vocalizing ] [ Indistinct conversations ] -Is he going to tune? He's waiting for your -- Who are we waiting for? -Yannick.

-Thanks. Are we good? -That was fast.

Now you can roll. Run, run. [ Laughs ] -Thanks, guys.

[ Instruments warming up ] Very stylish.

-Well, I have to keep up with you.

-[ Laughs ] Okay?

-So -- Yeah.

Do it, do it, do it. -Yes. Let's go.

[ Applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -This is incredible. [ Gasps ] Oh, my gosh.

Oh. Ohh!

It's like telling my story, these photos.

♪♪♪ In 1973, I was in the middle school.

I have no idea what's happening.

But I know something's happening between two big countries.

I was sent with a lot of students to a place in Huangjin commune.

I was learning how to plant the rice, and suddenly we heard a big noise, loudspeaker on the field.

He said, 'Do you want to hear some interesting music?

This is called 'symphony.'

The Philadelphia Orchestra is in China.'

♪♪♪ -Uh, Mr. Ormandy?

...and they said to me that... ♪♪♪ -I had been on Nixon's trip as the Secretary of State's assistant in 1972.

Nixon's trip marked the beginning of a relationship between the United States and China.

Up until then, starting in '49, we'd had no relationship with the communists.

-When we heard Nixon's going to visit China, that was definitely a big shock because we had been educated America is the enemy.

-The Korean War pitted the United States against China, and the last time the Chinese and Americans saw each other was over the sights of the barrels of guns.

-[ Chanting in native language ] -The Chinese themselves were very, very frightened of a Soviet invasion, and the Chinese started to wink at the United States, and the United States under Nixon winked back.

-[ Speaking native language ] -The American people are a great people.

The Chinese people are a great people.

The gate to friendly contacts has finally been opened.

[ Applause ] -The news was that Chairman Mao and Richard Nixon had met... and it was okay.

-To build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostility which have divided us in the past.

-The Chinese wanted to send a message to the United States that they were willing to talk.

We had a kind of a ragtag... [Chuckles] ping-pong team.

The Chinese invited them to come.

And that was a signal.

They wanted a cultural element in the relationship, and the Philadelphia Orchestra was part of that.

[ Applause ] [ Indistinct conversations ] -This is my 12th time going to China with the orchestra.

1973 was the first time out of the country for me.

I didn't even have a passport.

When I first joined the Philadelphia Orchestra, Ormandy was virtually a household name.

Tickets were very coveted to the point that subscription series were actually willed to people.

-They made a lot of recordings, and so, to sell records, they had to tour.

-The Philadelphia Orchestra toured more than any other orchestra.

I've been all over Europe, South America, Japan, China.

[ Indistinct shouting ] -When I was growing up in Washington, D.C., it was 'Red China,' it was 'Communist China.'

It wanted to export communism to the world, and all the other states in Asia were going to topple like dominoes.

-We had several disruptions in concerts of people who asked us not to go.

You know, they would get up, and they would say, 'Philadelphia Orchestra, please don't go to Communist China.

Don't go to China.'

-Many Americans saw the Nixon visit as a betrayal of our long-time ally in Taiwan, and they really opposed it.

♪♪♪ -Ormandy really wanted to go to China.

He had a thing about the Philadelphia Orchestra being first, and he lobbied the White House and he ultimately got his way.

-We didn't know what to expect.

And even on the trip over there, things were still unfolding.

-This was unknown territory to the pilot.

When we came into Shanghai, they were going back and forth, and afterwards, the pilot told us when we finally got in safely.

He said, 'Never been here before.

Just wanted to make sure.' [ Chuckles ] -We didn't know what we are going to face until the door opened in Shanghai where we had to stop at first.

I was asked to be the first one to go off the plane.

And on the left side, the diplomatic core, on the right, the musicians of the local orchestra, symphony orchestra.

They were just as warm and wonderful as could be.

-When we started to get into the center of town, people would be coming out to the corners and applauding the buses.

-During the Cultural Revolution, Western music was forbidden, but you're allowed to play Western instruments.

-We were told by the pianist who played with us in concert that he wasn't allowed to play Chopin in public, he wasn't allowed to play Liszt in public.

-In 1966, Mao Zedong really felt that the revolution was stagnating, and he wanted to spur it onward again, and so he started the Cultural Revolution.

The slogan of the Cultural Revolution was 'Destroy the old to build the new.'

And the people in charge of building the new were dubbed 'The Gang of Four,' and Madame Mao, Mao Zedong's wife, was the leader.

-The first few years of the Cultural Revolution, I would say from 1966 to 1970, was the most chaotic time.

-Many lives were destroyed, particularly the lives of artists and intellectuals and people seen to be representatives of the old society.

People were beaten to death by mobs.

They were summarily executed. There were a lot of deaths.

I don't think anyone knows the real number, but estimates range from the hundreds of thousands to over a million.

-At the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, there were 17 professors commit suicide in those three to four years.

[ Indistinct chanting ] -The young Red Guards were kind of running wild.

They would go into homes and maybe burn music or smash violins.

Musicians were targeted because they were representative of the old culture... and it had to be got rid of.

-Chairman Mao believes there's no such thing 'art for art's sake.'

Art had to serve the politics.

Instead of play Beethoven, you play revolutionary music.

-[ Singing in native language ] ♪♪♪ -They started trying to create these model theatrical works or musical works intended to inspire people to revolution and to show heroic characters.

♪♪♪ -The repertoire of operas and things like that was... I mean, less than this number of fingers.

'The Red Detachment of Women.' 'The White Haired Girl.'

They were all sick to death of that stuff.

-One day, my friend, he came to me and said, 'Jindong, come to my home. I want to show you something.'

So, we went to his home, and he said, 'Look, I have this gramophone machine.'

We had to lower the curtain.

And then we put the needle on and listened to Beethoven's symphony.

♪♪♪ And I never heard Beethoven's symphony before.

♪♪♪ You know, Chinese music mostly is a one-line melody, but in Beethoven's symphony, there's a harmony, there's a counterpoint.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -As soon as we got there, we had heard rumblings that Mrs. Mao had expressed disfavor at Beethoven's Fifth.

[ Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 5' plays ] -The Fifth, it's about fate.

♪♪♪ Communists don't believe in fate.

♪♪♪ -I said, 'Maestro, there's a strong request from the top to play Beethoven's Sixth, the Pastoral Symphony.'

And he looked at me, and he said, 'Well, you know I hate that symphony.

And I didn't bring any scores.'

And at that point, I started to make things up.

I said Beethoven's Sixth is program music.

It describes life in the countryside.

And the Chinese communists came to power on the back of a peasant revolution.

♪♪♪ -Ormandy felt that the Sixth Symphony was not showing off the orchestra to his liking.

That's the only reason he rebelled against it.

-On the way to town, the musical head of the Friendship committee sat with me and a translator, and the first question was, 'Don't you like the Sixth Symphony of Beethoven?'

I said, 'Oh, yes, very much.'

'Why didn't you program it?'

As we arrived in our hotel in Peking, he says to me, 'Do you like the Pastoral Symphony?'

I said, 'Yes, I told you that an hour ago!'

He said, 'But would you play it?'

I said, 'We can play it, but we don't have the music!'

'Don't worry. We have it.'

-We did get scores from Shanghai and from Beijing.

It was a jumble of scores that came in.

-The parts that we got didn't have our normal markings in them -- bowings and things like that.

-Every one was individually handwritten, was full of mistakes.

And we would be playing along and -- oop!

[ Chuckles ] Wrong note.

-You're talking about the Philadelphia Orchestra.

You're talking about Beethoven.

♪♪♪ It wouldn't have mattered if some were missing.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Here we are, the Philadelphia Orchestra on the front page of the And there's Mr. Ormandy, and there's myself in there and all of my colleagues.

And it was just an incredible realization that what we were doing was, in fact, very historic.

♪♪♪ -The first concert that we played was music of Mozart, Brahms, and Roy Harris.

-[ Speaking native language ] ♪♪♪ -After we played one of the big works, we heard sort of a temperate, quiet applause.

-I was called backstage.

[Chuckling] And I found Ormandy in a snit.

He was standing there and jumping up and down.

Gretel was fanning him with a big towel, and he was saying, 'I've never had such a bad reaction.

These people hate this music.'

[ Applause ] -There was a French reporter backstage, and he said, 'They went wild!'

'That's wild?' we said.

'That's wild for them. Wild, yes!'

[ Man speaking native language ] ♪♪♪ -They didn't hear any Western orchestras or Western music for such a long time, and they were craving for it, and they couldn't talk about it.

♪♪♪ -The whole country's living in a camp, or in a commune, no television.

So we only could hear this public radio -- public loudspeaker on the street, actually.

[ ] That's the first time I heard orchestral sounds.

♪♪♪ It's Beethoven. ♪ Buhm-buhm-buhm-buhm! ♪ Then I also hear the -- ♪ Dun-dun-dun-da-da-dun ♪ The Beethoven also.

I said, 'This music is so loud.'

It holds pitch flat so well.

Because our bamboo flutes, silk-stringed things is always like our language.

[Humming] You know?

Very lyrical. Very -- Very dance-like pitch.

But this orchestra, the brass and everything, it could be perfect.

And I was immediately, actually -- seduced, actually, by -- by this orchestra.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Conversing in native language ] -Yeah! Hi! You're a percussionist.

Your symphony's fantastic. Good to see you again.

-Let me see it. That's me.

[ Laughter ] Thank you.

-Let's go in there.

[ Indistinct conversations ] -[ Speaking native language ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -The purpose of our visiting the Central Philharmonic and their rehearsal was for us to get a sense of the differences between our style and their style.

♪♪♪ -He says, 'We want to learn, Mr. Ormandy.'

♪♪♪ I went, took my jacket off, and conducted the second movement.

[ Laughter ] -I often say to young conductors, 'You don't have to say too much. Just do it with your hand.'

♪♪♪ -Within a matter of minutes, they actually started to sound like the Philadelphia Orchestra.

♪♪♪ -I said, 'Okay, well, let me give you this and just enjoy.

You don't have to play it publicly.

You can just enjoy.'

-One night, the fourth or fifth concert, suddenly somebody came backstage and said to my wife, 'Mrs. Ormandy, will you come with me?'

And she went.

And then I said, 'I smell something.

Something is going to happen tonight.'

So, all of a sudden, everybody stood up, big applause.

And through a little hole, I looked through and I saw Madame Mao going with my wife, and her whole entourage going to her place.

-She was a little tiny, tiny woman, and she sat on the front row.

One thing -- everybody always watched her to see if she was applauding or acting like she was enjoying the music.

-It was obvious that anyone within 30 feet of her was terrified of her.

They were all, you know, in a state of high alert.

♪♪♪ -We played this famous Chinese march.

They went nuts. You could see them beaming.

This was their music that they were hearing with an 'outside of the country' ensemble.

-The audience just went crazy. They didn't expect it.

I said to myself, 'Let them hear our best, too.'

So, I turned around. I didn't say a word to the orchestra.

I started immediately to play 'The Stars and Stripes.'

[ 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' playing ] -Everybody in the orchestra was thinking, 'If we're going to play 'The Stars and Stripes' for Madame Mao, what must she be thinking?

How is she reacting to it?'

[ Applause ] -To the Chinese, it was new. They loved it, by the way.

♪♪♪ -[ Speaking native language ] [ Laughter ] ♪♪♪ -The Cultural Revolution finished in 1976 when Mao died.

Immediately after it, the old generals arrested Madame Mao.

-All the blame for what happened during the Cultural Revolution, a lot of destruction, a lot of confiscation, was placed on the Gang of Four.

All the members of the Gang of Four were sentenced to jail, and Madame Mao was sentenced to death.

-[ Shouting in native language ] -In the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, musicians were only allowed to play Chinese music.

By the end of the Cultural Revolution, everything was allowed -- almost immediately.

-We all feel liberated because of we can do so many things we were not allowed to do.

We start to play Beethoven, we start to play Mozart, and we have much more freedom in terms of learning classical music.

-In March of 1977, on the anniversary of Beethoven's death, the Central Philharmonic performed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and the last two movements were broadcast on nationwide television.

So, for music lovers, that's the real end of the Cultural Revolution.

That's when they knew it was over and it wasn't coming back.

You could play Beethoven again.

♪♪♪ -In 1977, when I returned to the city, I started to learn the Peking Opera.

One day, this big loudspeaker -- And the Central Conservatory of Music is calling for ten positions for the composer.

I said, 'My God. Ten. That's a lot.'

[ Whistle blowing ] I don't have money to take a train to audition in Shanghai.

♪♪♪ So what I did is I went to the train, I pick out the prepared notice.

It says, 'The bathroom is broken.'

So, I put it outside of the bathroom, and I stayed inside for 26 hours, riding from Hunan to Shanghai.

I arrived in Shanghai.

It's over 10,000 people fighting for these 10 positions.

Everybody was fantastic.

And I held this broken violin -- only three strings.

I said, 'What can I do?'

I wrote my first piece -- trio for violin, cello, and harp.

It's called, 'I Dreamed of Mao Zedong.'

And teacher was fascinated.

[ Laughs ] -That class becomes symbol of the resurrection of Chinese classical music.

[ Horns honking ] 1980 is the best time and best decade in China in terms of economic development, cultural development, everything.

People have hope they can get rich.

-You have the economy empowering more and more people, a growing middle class that can afford not only to pay for tickets for orchestras but also pay for and insist on music lessons for their children.

♪♪♪ -We caught Beethoven fever.

♪♪♪ Every orchestra playing Beethoven's symphony.

Everyone wants to listen to Beethoven's symphony.

♪♪♪ -Chinese people still really believed that to be a truly educated person you should understand music and you should perform music.

♪♪♪ -Because of government policy, every family only had one child.

The parents put everything into that child and want that child become superstar.

-[ Singing in native language ] ♪♪♪ -My father was born in 1946.

♪♪♪ He himself is a piano major when he was a student at the Nanjing Arts Conservatory.

♪♪♪ But because of the Cultural Revolution, his dreams were crushed, and he was sent to a factory for 20 years.

His piano was chopped. His scores were burned.

I was born in a very lucky year, that all the turmoil was over.

♪♪♪ I began to touch the instrument by playing commercial tunes and TV logos that I've heard just with one finger.

♪♪♪ -I think in a way I always felt the piano choose me... versus I chose the piano.

I clearly remember, one day, there's this huge furniture.

You know, back then, I called that the furniture.

And later on, I know that's an upright piano.

In the '80s, that was a big thing for a Chinese family.

We had a lot of young men lifting it up onto fourth floor where we lived.

My parents definitely did not have the same chances we did.

They really put their unfulfilled dreams onto us, and they gave us all this support and all the helps that we could ever dream of.

I went to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Elementary School when I was 8 years old.

Music for parents in China is very much like the sports for parents here in America.

It really makes you stand out, you know, among your peers.

-From a very early age -- 3, 4, 5 -- you start on the piano or a stringed instrument, which is the age you start at if you're going to be a great tennis player or a swimmer.

The average public school in the United States doesn't teach the arts.

They've eliminated it, which is sort of the opposite in China.

♪♪♪ -There used to be a lot of music in schools, which made people aware of music, right, from when they were 5 or 6 or 7 years old.

And America is no exception.

Now it's -- In Canada, where I come from, it's the same thing.

And slowly in Europe, it's starting also to be less and less present in the main curriculum.

-[ Speaking native language ] -In Shanghai alone, there are about 200,000 children studying the piano.

That's a conservative figure.

The sheer number of children studying created a large audience for the classical music.

-I ended up at the Shanghai Conservatory Primary School before traveling to the U.S. a year after.

On the day of the audition to Juilliard Pre-College, I had no idea what jet lag was.

I was 9 years old back then.

I refused to sleep for almost two days.

And on the road to New York City, I was dead in the car.

They were shaking me. They were pulling my face.

I woke up about three hours later.

I went there, and I played my program.

They asked this private teacher who accompanied me there, 'Where are his parents?'

And she said, 'Oh, they're still in China.'

They said, 'Can he stay here and not go back?'

So, me and my mother went to the U.S. in January 2003, as a fifth grader.

[ Piano playing ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Indistinct conversations ] [ Laughter ] -You did it beautifully. Okay? That's okay.

Maybe that was a little slower?

-Yeah. It's a little -- Yeah. -I mean... ♪♪♪ -[ Humming ] Yeah.

[ Humming ] Yeah. [ Humming ] It's like you want to go, but you hesitate... Yeah.

-Same thing. -Yeah.

And now you go. Oh, yeah!

[ Humming ] Yeah!

But now... Yeah! Love it!

-Yeah. -Love this. Love this.

-Philadelphia Orchestra has incredible followers in China.

I saw the Philadelphia Orchestra concert in China in the early '90s.

I still remember it.

-The tour in 1993 with Sawallisch was the first time that we had gone back to China in 20 years.

♪♪♪ -We performed in the Great Hall of the People.

It was a thrilling experience because as far as you could see were tiny heads.

It was just enormous.

That concert was listened to all over the country, and the estimate was that 80 million people heard it.

♪♪♪ -I would be riding in a taxi, and I would mention Philadelphia, and the taxi drivers would immediately say, 'Orchestra.'

♪♪♪ [ Applause ] -Maybe you can make it work.

-Can I try both ways? -Yeah.

-I'll do maybe from before... -Yeah, from the -- [Humming] -Where? -From the low F.

I entered Curtis at the age of 7, and I was there for 10 years.

I was studying with very great teachers.

♪♪♪ Ludwig von Beethoven taught Carl Czerny, who taught Theodor Leschetizky, who taught my teacher, Isabelle Vengerova, who taught me.

♪♪♪ students and students of other teachers at Curtis have a similar pedigree, you know, from Beethoven on down.

The second quarter. 'Buhm.' -Ahh.

-Maybe more -- more long-lasting sound.


-When I was at Curtis, almost all of the pianists and string players were second-generation Eastern European, mostly Jewish.

And then more and more, there were a lot of Asians.

It started more with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea.

And then, after the Cultural Revolution, it became a wave from China.

-I started at Curtis when I just turned 13 years old.

And when I first arrived in Philly, it was a lot because I had to go to a high school at the same time coming to Curtis.

Well, after a couple years of professional tourings, a very interesting offer came from the University of Shanghai Science and Technology.

They invited me to start a music department there.

At my university, which has 4,000 new students every year, each one of them is required to take at least one musical course from a department.

So it can be either music history, music theory, music engineering, all of that.

-[ Vocalizing ] ♪♪♪ -Think it's a great way to cultivate audiences.

If you educate people about classical music, they will go to concerts.

That becomes a very positive cycle.

-One, two, three. Again, three kind of levels there.

-When I first left China, we had only one main concert hall.

♪♪♪ Now Shanghai has at least five or six big music halls.

-Many Western orchestras, quite frankly, go to China because they think they can make a lot of money there.

It's an economic necessity for them.

-We have the Berlin Phil, New York Phil, Philadelphia Orchestra coming to Shanghai performing every year.

-Cities think that to be a successful modern cosmopolitan city, you need to have a good concert hall, a good orchestra, a good opera house.

And so the government has invested tremendously in building these facilities.

-In China, culture and politics always intertwined together.

-The Beijing Olympics were a great example of China's effort to display its soft power to the world.

♪♪♪ -China sees American domination in entertainment, in movies, in popular music.

They want that for China.

♪♪♪ -Anybody who auditions at Curtis has to come in person and play a certain amount of repertoire.

They have to play a Beethoven and Mozart sonata, some Bach and Chopin and et cetera.

Some of them send me tapes.

One of those people was Lang Lang.

He must have been 12 when he made it.

He sent me the Chopin Second Piano Concerto.

I wrote him the standard letter, except I said that I thought it was very beautiful, but that's not the audition.

And then I got another CD from him.

They were the 24 Chopin Etudes, which is among the most difficult, complicated, technically and musically.

It was extremely impressive.

But I wrote him back.

I said, 'You have to come and audition like everybody else.'

And he arrived and a suitcase large enough that made me think that he knew he was going to get in.

-Gary Graffman asked me, 'So, what's your plan?'

I said, 'My plan is to win everything here.

I want to win every competition.'

-I did not allow him.

I told him it was sort of stupid and especially unnecessary because he's already starting to play with orchestras.

-After I got accepted by Curtis, I became a solid music fan of Philadelphia Orchestra.

I came to every Saturday night.

♪♪♪ Gary Graffman, my teacher, always said, 'Once you're ready, you will be playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra sometime in the future.'

I was waiting. I was counting the days.

-I got a call from Chicago Orchestra at one point.

There was a special concert, and the pianist who was supposed to play was sick.

And they needed quickly, immediately, a pianist to play a movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto.

I said, 'I've got the person for you.'

-The moment came pretty, uh, sudden.

-He went there and was a knockout.

Isaac Stern, who was one of the soloists there, wrote me a letter saying, 'This is something special.

Take good care of him.'

♪♪♪ -I got a call from my management, saying, 'Hey, you must did something great that God is willing to help you.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is going to China in the end of May 2001... and they think it's the time to bring you in.'

-The Philadelphia Orchestra got a letter from China saying, 'Maybe you could have a different soloist.

He's never won any competition.'

Sawallisch was the conductor at that time, and he said, 'No, he's our soloist, and he's coming with us.'

[ Applause ] -I was like, 'My goodness!

I've been waiting for this, and I've been waiting -- the perfect moment to go back to my native country.'

I invited all my relatives.

They all came from my hometown, Shenyang, and they all sit on the first row.

♪♪♪ -Here was an incredible national treasure, a gem for the whole world.

They could point with great pride at what their country had produced.

♪♪♪ -He plays like he's drinking water.

He's so easy.

You hear and you can feel the emotions.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Until today, I feel so grateful and so emotional when I'm thinking about it, because if I did not have that, it probably would be a different story today.

[ Applause ] -Whoo! -Well done.


-Hah! -That was amazing!

[ Applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Mr. Ormandy, some foreign countries subsidize the arts.

Are we in a position in the United States to create a cabinet post to encourage the arts here?

-We have to have something happening, because all orchestras are really suffering today.

They don't have enough money. They need support.

The prices are going up.

But the prices of tickets are not going up, and we have a sold-out house.

The concert costs us $9,000.

Now, somebody has to pay for it.

The endowment funds -- they were enough 20 years ago; not today.

-Some of my colleagues don't like to call it a business, but it is.

There's so much competition for the entertainment dollar.

How do you pique the interest of a general population that is inundated morning, noon, and night with pop culture?

-Young people today, while many are interested, the numbers are not there.

-There's not full-time music education in every school in the country, certainly in the Philadelphia area.

People aren't learning instruments and, as a result, learning to appreciate music.

When I was 8 years old, I was brought into the auditorium at my elementary school.

I was given a music aptitude test.

The son of a junk man and a cleaning lady is not supposed to be in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but at that time, in that grade school, there were opportunities for this kid from Reading, a blue-collar town, to make music.

♪♪♪ I remember receiving an e-mail from a friend saying that, 'Hey, what's going on?

I hear the orchestra might be filing for bankruptcy.'

I said, 'No! I haven't heard anything about that.'

-They were the first American symphony orchestra to tour Communist China, the first to visit Vietnam.

Now they're going somewhere else that no major American orchestra has gone before -- bankruptcy court.

-We were literally not going to make payroll by April of 2011.

That's a stunning realization that is unexplainable to anyone who cares for the orchestra.

Just like the country in 2010, we were reeling from what had happened to endowments and investments, purchase power by consumers, and pension plans.

-The board was going about it to increase profit and reduce costs.

They were able to get out of pension obligations with the American Federation of Musicians.

They were able to renegotiate musicians' contracts and contracts with The Kimmel Center.

I can absolutely understand, but I just wish that they could have been on stage with us when we had to tour in Europe as the first American orchestra to file for bankruptcy.

♪♪♪ -As the bankruptcy title says, it's a reorganization.

Do we just present concerts and that's it?

What are the possibilities?

What are things we can re-imagine?

How can we come out better on the other end?

♪♪♪ -We'd been searching for a music director for four and a half years.

Yannick was on everybody's dance card in 2010.

He was music director of Rotterdam, he was conducting Berlin and Vienna, and he was making all of his tours of the United States.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] I told him that we were at such a moment of truth about ourselves, that I would do the heavy lifting on the finances.

When we came out, we needed him to be there.

[ Cheers and applause ] We began to think what China might be as a new market, really a second market -- an income-producing, but a grounded-in-mission effort to secure touring for the orchestra.

What we've done was to go back to China and say, Let's create these musical bonds, but these personal bonds that help both not just classical music have new audiences in China, but our countries hear each other a little differently.

♪♪♪ -I debuted in China in June 2008 with the Rotterdam Philharmonic.

Honestly, I didn't really know what to expect.

♪♪♪ And I'll never forget, that first tour, I could hear when the musicians were playing something soft or unusual -- a pizzicato, for example, in the string -- but it's impressive to an audience that never really heard that kind of sound.

And you would hear an immediate reaction in the hall.

'Ohh! Ahh!'

That immediacy and the passionate way of reacting in the moment to something that we take for granted back in America.

♪♪♪ -You're my favorite conductor. -Aw. Thank you!

-And I think you... -Hello.

-Please sign the CD.

-Nice. Thank you. Thank you.

-Do you remember the one time you organized the pop-up music?

-Yes. -...the audience to choose?

That's still the most enjoyable concert I've ever been to.

-Oh! That's nice.

♪♪♪ Youth has always been a very big part of why we play classical music.

They will come back to this if they've been exposed to it early on.

When I was 10, I saw the Montreal Symphony on television playing on the European tour, and everybody was very proud in the city.

When I was 11, some orchestra members came to a park and played.

♪♪♪ I'm aware of these gestures, how they can inspire.

This is why I became a conductor.

[ Rhythmic clapping ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] We want to reach people when they're very young, and the most inspiring place where youth is embracing this music is in China.

[ Indistinct conversations ] -There are music classes basically in every public school.

Maybe not 100%, but in the majority of schools.

So that makes a huge difference.

♪♪♪ -It's our responsibility to show back home how this can be... this should be our model.

-As much as people may have a fondness of the arts, they simply don't provide you with what the state is looking for, which is an increase in test scores.

The peaceful sound of the violin is just incredible.

I want a kid to know what that feels like.

I want to be able to hand that to them.

I've been the principal here since 2012.

The previous principal chose to write music out of the budget.

I chose to write it back in.

We applied for the Lang Lang grant.

That program afforded us 30 keyboards, a whole classroom set.

There is no way we could have ever afforded that through our budget.

If it weren't for Lang Lang, that music would not be in this building.

♪♪♪ -I want to take these kind of positive vibes to America, to the rest of the world, that music is fun.

-When I see those kids at the keyboards... ...and they're up on that stage at the concerts, it's such a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

I could leave here today. I felt like I did something.

[ Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 9' plays ] ♪♪♪ -Yeah! Wow! That was a great performance!

Did you hear that?! Wow!

[ Indistinct conversations ] -[ Speaking native language ] [ Piano playing ] ♪♪♪ [ Indistinct conversations ] -Good evening, everyone.

Welcome to our concert. And surprise!

[ Speaking Chinese ] [ Laughter and applause ] [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪ -And the nominees for Best Original Score are... 'The Patriot' by John Williams... 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' by Tan Dun... 'Malèna' by Ennio Morricone... 'Gladiator' by Hans Zimmer... 'Chocolat' by Rachel Portman.

And the Oscar goes to... Tan Dun for 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.'

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪ -There is a very famous folk song from Hunan.

It's called Liuyang River... [ Singing in native language ] Means the Liuyang. The nine turns.

Actually, I was growing up on the ninth turn of this river.

It's exactly in the center of Hunan.

♪♪♪ I was questioned by my father.

'Do you know Nu Shu?'

Nu Shu is in Hunan's deep mountains.

This language was the singing from only mother to daughter within the women, being a very secret language invented by the women, but it's disappearing.

So I decide to use my camera to shoot all those grandmothers and daughters and sisters, and later on, I put this film synchronizing with the Philadelphia Orchestra together.

[ Women singing in Nu Shu ] -We talked about the harp quite a bit and how much he loved the instrument.

♪♪♪ -I thought, 'Why -- Why not maybe make a harp a solo instrument?'

♪♪♪ The most effeminate instruments transforming as most powerful storyteller, with this ancient tradition of secret language of women.

♪♪♪ -I'm trying to take in what Tan is telling me about this secret language and these women.

Many women were in arranged marriages at an age of 12, 13, and they never saw their families again.

This was a way for them to express themselves.

♪♪♪ -Tan Dun knew how to translate the specificity of the Chinese culture and music culture into a language that the Western world could understand.

♪♪♪ -I listened to ancient Chinese music when I was growing up that -- it's still a part of me.

He definitely embodies the fusion of East and West.

♪♪♪ -Chinese bells or stones... from hands into the bowl to make the plucking sound of the drip.

Taking pieces of newspaper, tearing them at different speeds and different intensities.

These are all sounds that he's created just with found instruments.

-We are playing along with women who are singing in this language, but they're not there in physical form.

But you feel they're there, and you feel what they were going through, through their stories.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ When we took 'Nu Shu' on tour, first to Beijing and then to play it in Tan Dun's hometown province of Hunan, we were not prepared for the reaction.

♪♪♪ -I was treated as a hero.

♪♪♪ In the audience, all my old colleagues from the countryside, middle school, from primary school, and even my teacher.

♪♪♪ [ Applause ] ♪♪♪ -When they came out and I saw these women I had felt like I knew in my practice room, it was very touching, very powerful.

This woman told me on stage -- She says, 'Now, I have an American granddaughter.'

♪♪♪ -I know how much Philadelphia Orchestra comes to China, to play there.

Again and again and again.

They even went to Hunan!

Come on. My hometown.

It means they touched the soul of Hunan.

They touched the soul of me.

If they touched the soul of me, it means they touched the soul of my music.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -If you already have one of the passes that we handed out today, please exit the bus first, get in line first, so that you can enter the building first... -It's crazy to imagine that you would pick up a group of almost a hundred musicians, all their musical instruments, wardrobe, pack everything up and jump on a plane and go as far away from Philadelphia as you possibly could.

And here we are in China, doing that.

The U.S.-China relationship is complicated, perhaps now more so than ever.

But it's music that keeps the doors open.

-You read a lot of stuff in the newspapers about how we are at daggers drawn about all kinds of issues.

It's a very big, very complicated relationship, but like the weather, it's different at different levels.

When you're up at high altitude, it's cold.

The winds blow hard.

You get down closer to the surface of the earth, where the weather is warmer, the relationship is flourishing.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -There's that dimension.

That is the essence of a tour, to represent your own country, but more importantly, how can we also learn or be inspired by the way people react here to our music?

♪♪♪ -Now winds.

♪♪♪ -In China, the musicians of the orchestra fan out into the community.

They go to schools, to play in hospitals, civic centers.

♪♪♪ It's exactly the same that we do in our hometown.

♪♪♪ -You know, uh, ducks? A duck?

-[ Speaking native language ] -Yeah.

We eat duck. Beijing duck. Very good.

But when they are alive... -[ Speaking native language ] -...they are on the water like this.

-[ Speaking native language ] -Yeah, it's true. A duck is... But under the water... -[ Speaking native language ] -So, this is the feeling.

He is the duck above the water... [ Humming ] But he can be there only because... -[ Speaking native language ] -Okay?

Because if the duck stops doing this, it go pfft!

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -I was 17 when I dropped my biggest bomb.

I secretly called and canceled every single concert for the entire year.

My parents was just crushed, especially when they have a kid that was just on the edge of making it.

I didn't exactly say that I want to be a composer, but that was the real reason.

I was built as a composer, and everything I did as a pianist is only to fulfill that passion.

♪♪♪ I graduated in 2014 from Juilliard.

I wasn't actually thinking of coming back to China until I got the appointment from the Shanghai Philharmonic.

♪♪♪ -This concert grew out of the relationship we have with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra.

Musicians from the Shanghai Philharmonic came to Philadelphia and played on the stage of The Kimmel Center side by side with musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The music they performed together spanned both musical traditions.

-Good morning!

On behalf of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I just want to say that we're delighted to share the stage with all of you. Welcome.

Should be a very exciting two days.

I would just like for you to say a few words, if you don't mind, about the piece and what the background is a little bit.

-Sure. Well, thanks, Kensho, for all the great and hard work.

I mean, it's a short time, and it's a big piece.

So, regarding the music, trombones at bar 20, those glissandos -- it's actually an imitation of this terrifying laugh by one of the most controversial, violent war generals -- the Three Kingdoms -- Cao Cao, who knows that he's going to die, so he has this terrific laugh... [ Imitating laugh ] And then all hell breaks loose.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -This is helpful for our audiences to know what's also going on elsewhere in the world.

Even though it feels like we still play the same music, the Western music as the core, the core is getting richer by these new composers from China.

[ Applause ] ♪♪♪ There will be many, many more able to really make this bridge between the two cultures.

♪♪♪ -You see music critics saying, 'Can China save classical music?'

China's goal is not to save classical music.

China's goal is to be a part of the global classical-musical world and to contribute to the canon with new music as well as performing the old music.

♪♪♪ -It's not a Western music. It's not -- It doesn't belong to Germany or -- or Austria or Russia.

It belongs to the world.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 9' plays ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Choir joins ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -You are a little too fast here. Try to look at me more.

[ Vocalizing melody ] Dance it more. Okay?

Don't sing -- [ Vocalizing softly ] Good. So, that was beautiful before. Perfect.

Okay. So, let's hold... [ Speaking indistinctly ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Choir singing ] ♪♪♪ That's the idea. So much story that you can't help yourself.

Ahh! Okay. Beautiful soloist. Let's do it one last time.

[ Choir singing ] ♪♪♪ Looking forward to see you tonight.

And now it's a break. Bravo.

[ Applause ] [ Indistinct conversations ] -Ah.

[ Indistinct conversations ] -It's been our history here since '73.

So... -'73? Oh.

-Yeah, because President Nixon invited this orchestra, so I think it went, ping-pong, swimming, orchestra.

[ Conversing in native language ] -Oh. -Hi!

[ Laughter ] -Good to see you. How have you been?

-[ Laughs ] -Yeah. No.

-[ Speaking native language ] -Yes.

[ Indistinct conversations ] -If Beethoven would have known many hundred years ago that one day his wonderful piece would be performed in China by an American orchestra... a Canadian conductor... and Chinese vocalists... I think Beethoven would just not have believed it.

[ Instruments warming up ] Okay.

[ Applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Choir joins ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] The Philadelphia Orchestra is on tour in China, and our musicians would like to offer you a musical surprise.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cellphone rings ] [ Laughter ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪


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