Musicians receive standing ovation in London

Updated: 2012-08-05 07:50:59

By Mu Qian ( China Daily)

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Musicians from China and the UK relish the chance to share a stage - and an Olympic moment, Mu Qian finds out in London.

When the torch of the Olympic Games passes from Beijing to London, a musical bond between the two cities is also celebrated.

The Beijing Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra's joint concert received standing ovation in the Royal Festival Hall of London on Sunday, after a magnificent performance of Beethoven's Symphony No 9.

Musicians receive standing ovation in London

Musicians from Beijing Symphony Orchestra rehearse with primary students of London. Photos by Mu Qian / China Daily

The London Philharmonic Choir and vocalists from China and UK - Ning Liang, Rebecca Evans, Andrew Kennedy and Matthew Rose - joined the performance, which concluded Beijing Culture Week in London.

In contrast with the Beethoven symphony were two Chinese works in the first half: Tang Jianping's Sacred Fire 2008 - Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, dedicated to the Beijing Olympic Games, and Guo Wenjing's Overture 'Lotus', dedicated to the London Olympic Games.

"In numerous Chinese poems, songs and essays, the lotus is a symbol of friendship, as well as a messenger," Guo writes in the program note. "This overture is a message of best wishes to the London 2012 Olympic Games from the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and myself, and it is for this reason that I have named my piece of music after the sacred, auspicious lotus."

The work opens with one violinist playing solo and then more violinists joining in one by one, symbolizing the petals of lotus flower as it opens. It also features different musical scales, including those from China and Southeast Asia.

"I love the fact that Lotus is not a purely traditional Chinese piece but is written in modern style with a Chinese flavor. It's a beautiful marriage between Western and Eastern music," says Pieter Schoeman, concertmaster of London Philharmonic Orchestra. "The percussion concerto is also very impressive. I think it's a wonderful first half."

Sacred Fire 2008 featured Chinese percussionist Li Biao, who premiered the work with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra in 2008.

"Of course the two orchestras have their own different styles of playing, but the more we rehearse, the more homogenous we feel," Schoeman says.

"That's what music is all about, playing with other people and being flexible and adapting."

London Philharmonic Orchestra was one of the first Western orchestras to visit China, making its first of many China tours in 1973.

The two orchestras are also linked because the Beijing Symphony Orchestra recorded the Games anthems and national anthems for the 2008 Olympic Games, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra did the same job for the 2012 Olympic Games.

"Music is a universal language. The London musicians get to know Chinese works through rehearsing and playing with us, and we also get to know more about their style of performance," says Tan Lihua, music director and principal conductor of Beijing Symphony Orchestra.

Musicians receive standing ovation in London

Under the baton of Tan Lihua, Beijing Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra perform together at a gala concert in London in celebration of the 2012 Olympic Games. Photos by Mu Qian / China Daily

This London concert is one of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra's efforts to become a more international orchestra. This year the orchestra has invited a cast of the world's top-notch musicians to collaborate, including maestros Christoph Eschenbach and Daniel Barenboim, and soloists Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang.

The orchestra will tour Germany and Turkey this year as well as the UK.

Tan says the joint concert is also good for London Philharmonic Orchestra because it attracts audiences with a new program and line-up.

Since 2007, Beijing Symphony Orchestra has released six CDs under the EMI label, with half Chinese works and half Western works. This year the orchestra will record two new CDs with EMI, featuring Guo's Overture 'Lotus' and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

Education programs are also an important part of the orchestra's work, and it has regular rehearsal sessions with primary and middle school orchestras in Beijing.

In London, the orchestra also had a concert at the Stockwell Park High School with the Holst Orchestra, formed by 60 local primary students. Together they performed Farandole from Georges Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite No 2 and Vangelis's Chariots of Fire.

William Freitas, a 12-year-old student who plays cello in the Holst Orchestra, says the Chinese performers are "strong musicians, and it looks like they have put in a lot of heart and soul when they play".

"It was an unforgettable day for both us and the children," Tan says of the school program. "Some of the children have shown great musical talents. But whether or not they become professional musicians, music brings joy to their lives."

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