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In China, Philadelphia Orchestra continues forging special relationship

Some members of the Philadelphia Orchestra are on their way in China for a 10-day residency. Some have already arrived.

The trip is a pilot program to test new methods of cultural diplomacy.

When the Philadelphia Orchestra made a trip to China in 1973, with the help of then-President Richard Nixon, it was the first time Communist China officially welcomed Western culture. Almost 40 years later, the trip is still fondly remembered.

“When I’m in China, in the course of business — buying something in a shop or getting in a taxi — they’ll ask me where I’m from,” said Craig Hamilton, orchestra vice president. “And I’ll say, ‘Philadelphia.’ Invariably the next word out of their mouth is ‘orchestra.’ Something to the effect of, ‘the Philadelphia Orchestra means a lot to China.'”

While cultural exchanges are common among schools and foundations, the U.S. government rarely uses culture as a strategic tool. But in 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an agreement in Beijing to promote “People to People” exchanges in the areas of science, sports, women’s rights, and culture.

The orchestra’s 10-day residency is experimental, including workshops, chamber performances, and trips to less-traveled provinces. It will determine how the orchestra plans annual visits to China for the next five years.

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