Philadelphia Orchestra begins concert tour of China as Trump’s trade war escalates

Over 10 years, the Fabulous Philadelphians have built strong cultural ties with China. With trade diplomacy hitting a low note, will that good will dissipate?

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Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, leads the Philadelphia Orchestra. (Courtesy of Jessica Griffin)

Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, leads the Philadelphia Orchestra. (Courtesy of Jessica Griffin)

The Philadelphia Orchestra is in Beijing right now, on a two-week tour of China. The orchestra has made regular trips to China for 46 years, visiting more frequently over the last nine years as an agent of cultural diplomacy.

This tour comes at a time of heightened political tension stemming from a trade war over the tariffs placed on goods traded between China and the U.S. The ramp up of charges imposed on Chinese imports escalated dramatically just as the Philadelphia Orchestra was making final preparation for its trip.

The tour involves seven concerts over 10 days, and myriad other events including small ensemble performances, classes, seminars, and networking events. The Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development likes to leverage orchestra concerts to woo possible Chinese investors to the state.

The orchestra hit the ground running. The day before the orchestra’s first scheduled concert, a string quartet of its members performed in the Jianfu Palace Garden in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

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The orchestra will spend the better part of a week in Beijing, performing concerts, teaching classes at conservatories, and participating in seminars, including a presentation about the history of U.S.-Chinese relations given by former ambassador Nicholas Platt.

Orchestra CEO Matías Tarnopolsky said in a phone call from his hotel room in Beijing that the orchestra’s mission is to forge cultural bonds with individuals, not assuage a trade war.

“We’re very focused on making music and connecting to people,” he said. “Of course, we’re acutely aware of the geopolitical backdrop. We’re very focused on doing what we know how to do very well, which is connecting people through music.”

The tour will continue next week in Hangzhou, and then finish in Shanghai with a concert celebrating the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China. The orchestra’s relationship with China actually predates that 1979 landmark by six years.

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