10 Highlights of an Orchestra Tour Through China

By Elizabeth Erenberg

  1. Cultural connection 

    “Ni hao, Zheng Zhao,” Music Director Lawrence Golan said into the microphone at the beginning of Concert #1.

    The audience erupted into applause so uproarious that it felt like a sporting event, not a classical music concert.

    I was a guest flutist with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra for their month-long tour through China, and this special moment was just the beginning.

    The audience’s reaction to this one phrase made me tear up a bit. That would continue to happen for the remaining 13 concerts.

  2. World-class venues

    Of all the things we experienced touring this massive country, one thing remained consistent: each concert hall was state of the art. They were all very different, but their acoustics and stunning visual design made playing in them a true pleasure. This remained true even without air conditioning, which is saying a lot.

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Views from the stage of each hall

3. Encores

Chinese audiences love encores. Once we played the final note of the printed program, the audiences leapt to their feet with wide smiles, hands clapping, heads nodding, and arms waving. The enthusiasm was electric. Their refusal to stop clapping confirmed that they expected encores. We delivered three of them, but often, that didn’t seem like enough.

4. Fame!

When Maestro Golan finally escorted players offstage to end the concert, people ran up to us asking for autographs. Selfies were snapped by the dozens. Awe-struck children got to hold instruments for the first time in their lives.

Plain and simple, what we do matters.

5. History acknowledged and history made

One of the encores was a string arrangement of a piece titled “Going to the West Gate”. It is a historical Chinese folk song written for soldiers returning home. Most of the time, the audiences recognized the piece after the first few bars. This moment usually made for few dry eyes in the house. Here is a covert little concert video clip I took from my seat in the wind section (thus the poor angle). The end will drive the point home.

6. Being in my element

As one would expect with international travel, there were many “human experiences” on this tour, like jet lag, exhaustion, and sickness, to name a few. When all of these things seem to melt away during the performance, that’s how you know you’re in your element.

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7. Spontaneity 

The next best thing to being at home for fireworks on July 4th is to perform in a flashmob of “Stars & Stripes Forever” in a Chinese airport!

8. What was lost in translation was found in humor

Here are a couple of the many backstage signs that had us chuckling heartily.

funny signstage sign 29. Bonding with the music

After playing the Franck Symphony 14 times, it is easy to get a little saturated with it. On the flip side, an opportunity to really bond a piece in this way is a special opportunity. You really can get something new out of a piece each time you play it.

10. Perspective

In the past year, I got married, closed out my life Boston, and moved to a small town in Pennsylvania for my husband’s new career opportunity with the York Symphony Orchestra. Then, he and I both got invited to play on this tour.

All these radical and tumultuous life changes eventually brought about this opportunity. Being a musician was the reason, the cure, and the reward for all of it. That’s what I call #worthit.

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