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The whole world in his hands

By Xu Weiwei | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-23 08:32
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Yan Huichang (center) conducts the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra at the 2020 Grand Chinese New Year Concert at Mupa Budapest in Hungary. The performance was broadcast live across the world.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Seeing an audience reluctant to leave the music hall even after three encores and an official curtain call, veteran conductor Yan Huichang was stunned.

"The stage was already empty — but people were still standing there and applauding loudly for us," the Chinese music maestro recalls.

That was following a performance by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra in Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris, in 2004. Soon, the conductor figured out what to do. "I went back onto the stage with the concert masters again, and again, bowing and thanking them until they finally left contented."

More surprises followed. Afterward, outside the hall, Yan saw the crowds lining up to buy records and other publications produced by the ensemble, which all quickly sold out.

"That was really heartwarming to me, as it illustrated how much they had appreciated our performances and loved the Chinese traditional music," Yan says.

The orchestra also performed in a well-known, grand cathedral, the Basilica of Saint-Denis, a unique setting, receiving high recognition from the audience. When the rest of the world sees how unique Chinese culture is, and how it can benefit all people, they will surely enjoy it, Yan says.

The charm of Chinese folk music performed by the orchestra stems from it being deeply rooted in tradition while embracing modernity, according to Yan.

"Our mission statement is to turn the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra into a renowned, world-class orchestra that local Hong Kong residents can be proud of."

Yan has led the orchestra since 1997, when he was appointed its music director, moving on from his posts of principal conductor and artistic director of the China National Traditional Orchestra. Since then, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra has performed across the globe.

Whether playing in Europe, the United States, or elsewhere in Asia, Yan has found that the orchestra's performances have always been highly welcomed.

"In so many places, the audiences have given standing ovations and requested encores, even before the shows have ended," he says. "In fact, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra has become a cultural ambassador for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China."

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