Two to tango: 50-year orchestra legacy keeps China-U.S. music playing

The Philadelphia Orchestra is visiting China to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ensemble’s historic 1973 tour of China, the first by an American orchestra. With 10 more tours in 50 years, the Philadelphia Orchestra has been an ambassador of cultural exchanges between the United States and China. During their China trip in 2019, CGTN host Tian Wei gets up close and personal with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And this time, we again spoke with the president and musicians of the orchestra, to talk about their musical journey and the enduring friendship between China and the United States.

Matías Tarnopolsky, the president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra, says it is delightful to commemorate our 50-year relationship with the people of China during this residency. “Music has the power to connect and build bridges,” he points out.

The 73-year-old violinist Davyd Booth remembers the trip he made 50 years ago. For Booth, his first trip abroad was eye-opening. Since becoming the orchestra’s harpsichordist in 1998, Booth has been on every trip. He says this year’s visit is important for both the U.S. and China, and music has helped rekindle very close relationships.

China-U.S. relations have been going through difficulties since the U.S. unilaterally launched a trade war against China in 2018, triggering strong concerns in the international community . Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s senior minister emeritus, asserts China’s development has been beneficial to the world. He says indiscriminate decoupling could adversely affect global economic growth, weigh down supply chain resilience, and threaten food and energy security.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden are expected to hold summit talks in San Francisco on APEC sideline. Many hope their  meeting in-person for the second time in nearly three years can help stabilize tense ties. To move toward San Francisco, it is important to return to the Bali consensus. As some experts have pointed out, the latest interactions between China and the U.S. show the world is no longer dominated by the United States. Faced with China’s rising global influence, the U.S. has to find new ways to coexist with China.

Music does help forge connections. The Philadelphia Orchestra story epitomizes the strengthening of people-to-people connections between China and the United States over the past decades. While the bilateral relationship is going through some rough patches at the national level, wide-ranging exchanges and cooperation at the grassroots level are far from losing steam. “The U.S. and China are like two strong men in a rowboat in a turbulent sea,” said Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary. They need to be “rowing in unison” to get to the shore and not just survive, but thrive.

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