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Musical reunion spreads notes of harmony

By Chen Nan Source: China Daily Updated: 2023-11-15


Musicians acknowledge the audience after a special concert to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Orchestra's visit to China at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Friday evening. [Jiang Dong/China Daily]

Philadelphia Orchestra's China visit 50 years ago relived

On Friday afternoon, the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, or NCPA, was bustling with visitors as usual.

Ranging in age from young students to seniors, they were eager to see the iconic venue, which opened in 2007, and is known for attracting top artists from around the world.

In a VIP room, Zhu Xinren, 90, inspected photographs of musicians who have performed at the NCPA, which were hanging from the walls.

Rising early that morning to don a smart suit, Zhu was eagerly anticipating meeting an old friend he had not seen for 50 years.

Sensing crowds entering the room, Zhu turned around and smiled. Reaching out, he shook the hand of gray-haired Davyd Booth, who said: "This is an incredible meeting. I am so happy to meet you."

Zhu replied: "I'm happy, too. It's been 50 years, and I'm now 90 years old." Booth said: "I'm 73. You look great."

In 1973, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985), the Philadelphia Orchestra became the first orchestra from the United States to perform in China since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Since that visit, the orchestra has returned 12 times, developing deep, impactful connections throughout China as a result of concerts and residencies that led to people-to-people exchanges.

Booth, who was 23 in 1973, was the orchestra's youngest violinist.

He was not supposed to join the China tour that year, but he received a phone call telling him he was needed as a replacement for a musician who could not make the trip. Booth was both shocked and thrilled. He did not even have a passport at the time.

During the tour, the Philadelphia Orchestra met and worked with musicians from the China National Symphony Orchestra, formerly known as the Central Philharmonic Society. Zhu was the Chinese orchestra's first violinist.

At their reunion, Booth told Zhu, "We can play Bach's Double," referring to Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor.

"No, I cannot play now. I played as a violinist for 40 years and later worked in the managing group, but I have not played the violin for a very long time," Zhu replied.

Booth said, "No, I'm sure you can," adding that it was his 51st year playing as a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

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