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Prestigious UK Orchestra savouring latest China tour
   2016-11-11 13:51:39    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Shi

One of the UK's most prestigious orchestras, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on tour in China. [Photo: RPO]

When a full symphony orchestra rolls into town, they are very hard to miss.

About 100 people, plus instruments with a mission to entertain, and a desire to learn about, eat and drink everything in sight, usually in the space of 48 hours.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is in China at the moment. One of Britain's most respected orchestras, this year it is celebrating its 70th birthday.

Touring is in their blood, not just as a means of spreading musical culture around the world, but because culture is big business, contributing billions of pounds each year to the economy.

On this tour, they've played to audiences in Shanghai, Changzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Beijing and finishing up in Harbin.

The orchestra's chief executive James Williams has been especially impressed with the quality of the venues this time, since they last visited three years ago.

"The musicians really love China and embrace everything that it brings them both as musicians and also as tourists. I am constantly amazed at the quality of concert halls that China has. They are building infrastructure to present orchestras, and I think the ambition of promoters as well, they really want to present the very best of orchestral music and it is something that we find hugely thrilling to be part of."

The Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Dutoit. The maestro is a keen traveller and has been taking in the sights of China during the orchestra's latest tour. [Photo: RPO] 
 

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1946 by Sir Thomas Beecham. It operates in a tough domestic environment, competing with half a dozen other world class orchestras in its base in London alone. Facing a decline in public funding generally, it has had to become leaner, more commercial outfit while still offering high quality concerts. However, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has been a bitter sweet pill for the RPO.

"We are a little bit cheaper now with the strength of the pound against the Euro, if we are being paid in stronger currencies. I think in the longer term, who knows what will happen as a result of Brexit. There's a climate of uncertainty which makes people reticent to invest in culture at a time when they are not certain what the future of their corporation will be in London and the UK.

When it travels abroad, the Royal Philharmonic is acutely aware of the ambassadorial role it plays ĘC not just for the UK, says James Williams, but also for the genre of classical music.

"The Department of Culture Media and Sport in the UK has been very good at advocating the value of culture within the UK economy. To put it into perspective the cultural economies bring around 87 billion pounds to the UK economy, which when you consider that the construction sector is just over 90 billion, actually it performs very well in that context, so that's a really good leverage tool for us in terms of promoting the value of government investments into culture given what it delivers back in terms of jobs. I think that China will very much see that sort of value in return when they begin to ride on the crest of the wave of the cultural economy here."

The appetite for classical music has always been huge in the West, but in China it's traditionally been targeted at ex-pat audiences. In contrast, Chinese performers such as pianists Lang Lang, Li Yundi and violinist Tianwa Yang have hit the big time with international audiences.

"I think we see it as an emerging market and it's really encouraging to see Classical music within schools now. We played in Nanjing at the University on Monday, to a lot of students and there was a really healthy appetite particularly amongst the younger generation among Chinese students for Classical music and I think that is really healthy for the future of classical music here in China," observes James Williams.

The RPO is unusual in that it is a self-governing company, which means that the players have a huge amount of control over its artistic and commercial direction. Its reputation however has ensured it attracts the best soloists and conductors for their concerts. For this tour to China, they've been joined by the eminent maestro Charles Dutoit who, says James, has been reveling in the sights and sounds of China.

"Certainly Charles Dutoit our Principal Conductor is a very keen traveller and tourist, and I know he's been very much enjoyed visiting cities such as Wuxi and Nanjing and indeed Harbin, which are cities that he's never been to before, so I know that he has particularly enjoyed this tour."

Chief Executive James Williams notes also that the orchestra itself has inevitably become a tourist attraction in its own right.

"We are, yes, there's 97 of us altogether so when we are en masse of course we do stick out a little bit in the local vicinity so yes, but we've had some really lovely comments from audiences, people coming up to us in restaurants and bars after the concert which has been really lovely."

(The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concludes its China tour with concerts in Beijing on the 11th November, and Harbin on 12th and 13th November.)

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