BEIJING, Nov. 14, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- Chinese people believe that letters are as valuable as gold. For thousands of years, letters, across mountains and oceans, have been delivering the writers' sentiments, friendship, and expectations.
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, has managed to find time to reply to some letters from different parts of the society and the world despite his busy work schedule. Xi is also Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Through his letters, Xi has corresponded with international friends from all walks of life on numerous occasions. His letters have also been delivered to "home" senders such as Chinese experts and artists. The Global Times traced and contacted some of the addressees of Xi's letters to hear the inspiring stories behind the letters.
This installment tells the story of letters exchanged between Xi and Matias Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping replied to a letter from Matias Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra, on November 10, the friendship of half a century was further strengthened through the art of music. This not only reflects the importance that both sides attach to cultural exchanges, but also provides a good opportunity for cooperation and understanding between the two countries.
On the evening of November 10, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing hosted a concert titled "50 Years of Friendship" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Orchestra's first visit to China in 1973. The concert was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the China National Symphony Orchestra.
As the baton of Tristan Rais-Sherman, assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was raised, the Overture of Candide composed by American conductor Leonard Bernstein was played to unveil the performance. The spirited piece was followed by a tranquil Chinese melody, Two Springs Reflect the Moon, that both Chinese and American audiences were familiar with.
Ahead of Friday's special concert, the letter was read inside the concert hall, in which President Xi expressed hopes that orchestras and artists from China, the US, and across the world would persist in efforts to strengthen people-to-people ties between China and the US, and spread friendship among the peoples of the world. Tarnopolsky said he was honored and grateful.
The concert was held at a special moment as, on the other side of the NCPA, the ballet Giselle mounted by the American Ballet Theater was also in progress on the same day.
These cultural exchanges were held only several days ahead of the planned meeting of the heads of state of China and the US.
"It's going to be an important meeting, and we're very much looking forward to it and receiving President Xi in our country," Tarnopolsky said on the day of the concert.
During the interview after the inaugural performance in Beijing, Tarnopolsky told the Global Times that he was honored and grateful to receive the letter from Xi.
"It is an honor for the Philadelphia Orchestra to receive a letter from President Xi in this moment of 50 years of visits to China. And we're very grateful for the warmth of the welcome that the Philadelphia Orchestra always receives in China," he said.
"President Xi has recognized that is a very important gesture and encourages us to keep coming and keep playing music and making these connections with the people of China."
No matter how the world changes, he believes that there are neither hierarchies nor differences between people when it comes to music. "Music can give voice to ideas that words alone cannot convey," added the CEO.
Tarnopolsky firstly wrote to Xi, reviewing the history of the orchestra's ties with China and introducing the activities to be held in China in November to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its first China tour.
In return, President Xi wrote back to Tarnopolsky.
In his reply, President Xi said that he hopes the orchestra and artists from China, the US, and across the world will continue efforts to strengthen people-to-people ties between China and the US, and spread friendship among the peoples of the world.
Half a century ago, the orchestra's historic China tour marked a thaw in China-US cultural exchanges, which was a very important part in the normalization process of the two countries' diplomatic relations. Since then, the orchestra had visited China 12 times as an active cultural envoy, playing an instrumental role in strengthening China-US ties, Xi said.
Over the course of half a century, the orchestra has served as a dynamic cultural envoy between China and the US. Some of the musicians, such as Davyd Booth, were part of the ensemble since their first visit to China in 1973.
Ryan Fleur, executive director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, told the Global Times on Friday that the 50th anniversary celebration was a collaborative endeavor from both sides, which was made possible by the invitation from The Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries that has been their partner since 1973.
But the connection of the orchestra with China goes back even further: As early as the 1940s, the orchestra staged concerts to raise funds for China's Eighth Route Army led by the Communist Party of China (CPC), in their resistance against Japanese aggression during World War II.
"It was a great achievement. Both China and the US want to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the tour, which was a historic event. Music had a profound impact on people's lives, and the orchestras' performance in 1973 was a life-changing event for many people," Tarnopolsky told the Global Times in a previous interview.
Adding to that, the CEO gave a glimpse into the perceived future.
"We're planning the next 50 years. And we also have another Chinese Lunar New Year concert planned in Philadelphia, so we'll be celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year in January."
Exchanges beyond music
Visits by the Philadelphia Orchestra to China over the years have been very influential to musicians from the two countries. They not only get to share the same stage, but also have exchanges beyond the musical arena.
Fifty years has passed, contributions by two members of the then Central Philharmonic (now China National Symphony Orchestra), 90-year-old Zhu Xinren and 88-year-old Yang Shi, in training with US musicians continue to be unforgettable experiences.
Eugene Ormandy, the then conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra until 1980, and other US musicians watched a performance by their Chinese counterparts on September 15, 1973. They showed great interest in the string ensemble Two Springs Reflect the Moon, which had just been adapted by Wu Zuqiang, leader of the composition group of the Central Philharmonic. The charm of Chinese melody immediately attracted them.
"They asked to get the score sheets in the hopes of performing it in the US. It was just finished a year before by Wu and the debut had made it possible for it to head to the US stage," violinist Zhu recalled.
Chinese conductor Li Delun led the Chinese orchestra in a performance of one movement from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. He then handed his baton to Ormandy and requested that he conduct the next movement. Ormandy led the orchestra to thunderous applause.
"Music connects the world. He also praised us young performers for our strong receptivity. This can be said to have been a worldwide cooperation," said Zhu.
When musicians had talks after the performances, US musicians were particularly surprised when they saw the musical instruments that their Chinese counterparts held, recalled Yang.
At the time, the conditions under which our orchestra mounted performances were not good as instruments were broken or glued back together, and the scores were old handwritten ones and were pasted together. "They didn't expect that our musicians could play such good music with such instruments."
Musical instruments were given as gifts to each other. Chinese musicians were moved when their US counterparts presented them with instruments such as a clarinet, trumpet, flute, and a set of triangles, as well as scores of famous European and American composers, and hundreds of records and orchestra's professional books.
For the Central Philharmonic, which was facing a difficult period at the time, these instruments and materials solved the orchestra's urgent needs. Yang Shi said: "They sent us a batch of woodwind and brass instruments, which was a timely help. But the instruments we gave them also made them even more surprised and happy."
The Chinese musicians presented pipa, Chinese gongs, erhu, flower drums, and other national musical instruments that best represent Chinese music as gifts to US musicians. Zhu recalled: "The indispensable Chinese musical instrument is the gong. The gong we sent was custom-made by a master from Shandong. The diameter of the gong is 1.1 meters. Their gong is only 60 centimeters. So when they saw that we brought in such a big one, they were all shocked."
This past weekend, China again bestowed another gift to the Philadelphia Orchestra to mark the special occasion: A rare vinyl record of Yellow River.
As Yin Bo, deputy director of the China National Symphony Orchestra, noted on Friday, Chinese and American musicians will collaborate through music to foster cultural understanding among the youth of both nations.
"The gesture from President Xi was an acknowledgment and an incentive for most literary and art workers," Liu Zhiyong, deputy chief of the same orchestra said. "President Xi's reply letter conveyed his sincere aspiration for enhancing extensive cultural exchanges and cooperation between China and the US."