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Exchanging classical music for terracotta warriors

By 20 June 2009 No Comment
Photo by Rebecca Persons

Tune-up: US and China promote harmony through music and statuary | Photo by Rebecca Persons

Flautist Carole Bean didn’t anticipate anything out of the ordinary when she learned that she would be traveling to Xi’an, China to perform with the American National Symphony Orchestra. But soon after the concert in Xi’an on June 14, Bean realized that in bringing classical music to the Chinese people she and her colleagues in the Washington DC-based symphony had become cultural ambassadors.

“I think it’s good that it was the NSO that came,” said Bean. “We represent the nation’s capital, and it opens up [Sino-U.S.] relations more.”

The choice of Xi’an as a venue was also important. An ancient capital that is now a modern city, Xi’an values its ancient relics and monuments and with good reason. The city received a big boost in its modernization efforts in 1974 after local farmers discovered in Xi’an’s outskirts numerous 2,200-year-old terracotta warrior statues representing the funeral cohort of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The find helped eventually turn Xi’an into a bustling tourist stop.

Led by principal conductor Ivan Fisher, the NSO embarked on its 10-day tour of Asia, including stops in Beijing, Shanghai and Macau, to honor the 30th anniversary of the normalization of US-China relations. And while China got the NSO, the US got a visit from the terracotta warriors, which have been on tour in the U.S., including Houston, Texas, Midland, M.I. and Washington, D.C. since 2008.

According to Emily Zhang, media relations manager for The Dow Chemical Company, which is sponsoring the NSO event,  the tour began with an invitation from the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. But the performance in Xi’an meant more than simply celebrating U.S.-China relations. “We invited the musicians to visit schools and universities to set up a platform for the musicians to interact with students,” Zhang said.

Zhang said both the NSO and Dow Chemical have a history of engaging in educational outreach programs, and the performance in Xi’an was used as a tool to promote classical music to China’s next generation of music lovers.

As for the NSO, said Bean, “It’s hard to know what touring accomplishes, whether it gets the world to know the National Symphony exists, but for us as an orchestra it brings us closer together, we kind of bond as a group more.” Bean, who has been playing the flute for over 30 years, arrived in Xi’an on a Sunday morning and performed that same evening. She said that many of the musicians were surprised by how much development had occurred in China.

“I think our eyes were opened completely to how much it’s changed,” Bean said. “I liked the city of Xi’an the best. It wasn’t as modern [as other cities], and I liked that I got to see more people in the city and walk around.” Both Bean and Zhang said audiences received the performance very well and appreciated the music.

The concert was auspicious for another reason. It took place during the first week of the third and latest excavation of “new” terracotta warriors in Xi’an. The next stop for the warriors touring the US comes this November when they travel to National Geographic headquarters in Washington DC, where they will remain on display until March, 2010.

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