The Philadelphia Orchestra and China's Evolving Tastes in Classical Music

May 17, 2016

The Philadelphia Orchestra opens its 2016 Asia tour in Hong Kong with a pair of live WRTI broadcasts on May 19th and 20th with repertoire that includes, surprisingly, Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 — showing how Chinese concert presenters and audiences have evolved. Yet the Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports that collaborating with presenters can still be challenging.

David Patrick Stearns: China seems not quite ready for the Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 10. The Philadelphia Orchestra floated this great, anguished but unfinished work as a possibility for the 2016 tour of Asia. No takers, at least this year, says music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin: I don't think it's going to take long. It's all about developing this relationship and this trust and this eagerness.

DPS: Mahler will be represented by his transcription of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 11 that seems to be sneaking in without anybody noticing it's probably a China premiere. 

YNS: We always start from an artistic point of view. We look at what we've done in the season, and we look at the repertoire that we would love to take on tour, then we give this to the presenters and we hope that they will take it. But the Bruckner 4, I said, let's put it out there and see, and actually we play it three or four times. 

DPS: Touring fees are high. No wonder presenters are wary of risks. 

YNS: We did also in Europe pretty much one Germanic program and one Russian-oriented program. And this is always, every tour I think we should have that.

DPS: What worries featured soloist Lang Lang, who joins the tour after Hong Kong, is what happens when presenters do take chances. On this tour, he's confident about playing Rachmaninoff's often-neglected Piano Concerto No. 1. But for next year's Berlin Philharmonic tour, he and conductor Simon Rattle had spirited discussions over including Bartok's abrasive Piano Concerto No. 2. 

Lang Lang: He said, no, don't worry they'll take it! And he was right. So next year I'll tour the entire continent, Bartok 2! I mean, I'm like, I hope I have a good applause after. 

DPS: As if applause has ever been a problem for him?