Back to the musical future

By Jack Freifelder ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-02-28 08:24:24

Back to the musical future

Maestro Lorin Maazel leads a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, on Aug 2, 2012. Photo Provided to China Daily

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The last time Boston Symphony Orchestra played a concert in China was 35 years ago. It will be back in May. Jack Freifelder traces the journey.

A lot has sure changed since 1979. Tie-dye and bell-bottoms are largely a novelty now, but they were all the rage when the Boston Symphony Orchestra last played a concert in China 35 years ago. Even the iconic Zhongshan suits that dotted the streets in China several decades ago have taken a backseat to more contemporary fashion. But the BSO's Larry Wolf still remembers the fad's heyday well. "I was 31 on the first trip to China," Wolf says in an interview. "I tried to be a tourist and it was all extremely interesting. I remember the streets, a sea of bicycles and the blue Mao jackets that were just everywhere."

"Being an American I was just an object of a positive, childlike curiosity," adds Wolf, an assistant principal double bass player with the BSO. "People wondered if I stubbed my toe in New York whether I would feel the same pain they did with a stubbed toe in Beijing. The answer is, of course, yes."

The BSO is set to tour China and Japan later this year with a series of seven concerts over a 10-day period from May 1 to 11, the first trip the BSO has made to China since its historic tour in 1979 under the direction of Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa.

At the end of the BSO's 2013-14 season, Maestro Lorin Maazel-who first debuted with the BSO in December 1960-will lead the orchestra during this year's trip to China and Japan, which will feature concerts in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Tokyo.

The BSO became the first orchestra from the United States to visit China, following the signing of the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, on Jan 1, 1979.

Boston's main orchestral body plays at Symphony Hall-a building designated a US National Historic Landmark by the US government in 1999-and the company is currently in its 133rd season of performances.

Mark Volpe, the managing director with the BSO, says, "there's a real interest in China and Japan" because the level of music-making there is "incredibly high".

"I've never been to China with the orchestra, so this will be a first for me," Volpe says.

"China is this incredibly interesting place that has opened up, and it's always fun to go on tour to see exotic places and play in other halls. You couldn't talk this way 35 years ago."

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